Previously we presented some alternative thoughts to the mainstream misperception of the Iranian "isolation" by some of its biggest oil trading partners. Unlike others, we simply believe that the gulf nation, together with the new axis of anti-USD (as confirmed once again earlier today) is simply preparing itself for a barter based economy, or alternatively, one with commoditized intermediates. However, this ignores the likelihood of geopolitical instability caused by intervening US and Israeli interest in the region. Below are some thoughts from Doug Casey of Casey Research on the likelihood of another full blown shooting war erupting in the Persian Gulf, as well as his thoughts on how one may prepare for such a contingency.
"Uh, Marriner Eccles: We Have A Problem" - Obama Predicts He Will Breach Debt Ceiling Two Months Before ElectionSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/14/2012 12:19 -0400
In light of the epic fiasco from last August, when the US debt ceiling hike became a 2 month televized affair, culminating with the GOP caving, but not before the S&P downgraded the US (and in the process breaking the US stock market), Zero Hedge has long been analyzing the chronology of future debt breaches, as with the presidential election in November, what happens in the months and weeks ahead of it as pertains to the number one problem facing America - its lethal debt addiction - will be by far the biggest weakness of Obama's campaign. This is something we believe the GOP has finally understood, and they want a full replay of last August's insanity, to remind America just how broke (and broken) this country is. Yet it turns out all of our analyses have been for naught (if 100% correct). Because it is none other than President Barack Obama who has been kind enough to point out, that on September 30, 2012, or in just over 7 months, total US debt subject to the limit will be, wait for it, $16,333,900,000,000. Why is this an issue: because the final debt ceiling that Obama has been afforded with automatic Senatorial roll overs (even as Congress theatrically votes these down), is $16,394,000,000. In other words, with two months ahead of the election, the US will have a de minimis $60 billion in debt capacity. And since the implied burn rate is $133 billion/month this means that the United States will be in full blown debt ceiling hike chaos just as the final electoral debates take place. And one wonders why the GOP rushed to green light Obama an additional $160 billion in debt issuance. If indeed the $160 billion in new debt is added, the US may not even last to September before Tim Geithner is forced to start plundering G-fund and other retirement accounts. It also means that two months of America in a debt ceiling breach situation will deal a dramatic blow to Obama's reelection chances as the last thing the US population will want is a replay of last summer.
Earlier today, Obama formally proposed his 2013 budget (link) which sees a $1.33 trn budget deficit in the 2013 fiscal year - more than the $1.296 trillion 2011 budget deficit, which unfortunately indicates that even with rather rosy assumptions, the deficit hole continues to grow, which also means that the debt plug will be higher in the next year compared to the prior, which in turn lends even more credibility to the US debt clock analysis which assumes a nearly 140% debt/GDP ratio by the end of a potential second Obama term. While that will likely end up being an optimistic estimate, for near-term discussion purposes, the probability of even this particular budget passing is slim to none as the GOP reaction in the republican controlled Congress has been swift and brutal. Per the WSJ: "Republicans moved quickly to denounce Mr. Obama's budget plan. "This proposal isn't really a budget at all. It's a campaign document," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said... Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said, "Again the president has ducked responsibility, he has punted again, he has failed to take any notable action on this crisis." "All we're getting here is more spending, more borrowing and more debt that will lead to slower economic growth," Mr. Ryan said on a conference call with reporters. Republicans are expected to offer their own budget plan in the next month. The president's populist message is weaved throughout his proposal. "For many Americans, the basic bargain at the heart of the American dream has eroded," the president said while reiterating a call for nearly $1.5 trillion in tax increases on higher-income Americans over 10 years. He added he is seeing "signs that our economy is on the mend" and that this is a "make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get there." So while this "budget" is not even worth the paper it is printed on (unlike reserves, they actually still use paper for these things) here per the WSJ, are the key charts that form the foundation of the budget forecast.
Okun's rule-of-thumb relates the long-term empirical finding that a country's unemployment rate is closely related to a country's output (or GDP) - perfectly sensible and comprehensible. In fact to be a little more explicit, it is the change in unemployment that is more notable in its relationship to the potential GDP (the output gap). His original work noted that a 3% increase in output corresponds to a 1% decline in unemployment rates (and/or rise in labor force participation, rise in hours worked, and rise in labor productivity) but as Goldman Sachs notes this week, Okun's Law has broken. As they point out, even though US real GDP growth has averaged a meager 2.5% pace since the end of the recession, the unemployment rate has fallen almost two percentage points from its peak. There are three implications, in our view: the unemployment rate is hopelessly miscalculated (and is much higher); potential growth is much lower than economists have been expecting (not such good news for real growth); and the multiplier effect of money has dropped structurally (in other words the implied money flow from more workers is not circulating the way it empirically has to juice growth). It seems to us that none of these are good for growth as the reality of a higher unemployment rate (BLS adjustments aside) is negative, lower potential for growth impacts earnings expectations (as we are already seeing in company and analyst outlooks which has perplexed those market watchers pinning their hopes on the jobless rate), and the balance sheet recessionary impacts of the 'employed' minimizing debt rather than maximizing potential gain is a further drag. Either way, as Goldman notes the potential growth rate going forward (2012 and 2013) is likely to remain quite weak, in the neighborhood of 2% in line with the CBO's dismal views and this could be further exacerbated by the drop in labor force participation we have noted vociferously.
Stocks are not the only thing enjoying the ECB's $800 billion balance sheet expansion (and just announced additional Bank of England Quantiative Easing) over the past 6 months. Lately a new and unwelcome visitor has also figured out the Euroean Central Bank's sneaky motives. No, not Germany, they still are hopelessly confused and still believe the ECB is not "printing" money. Nor gold. It did long ago, just as Roubini was calling for an imminent crash following the 200 DMA breach - it is headed over $2000 in short order. No, this time it is that last entrant to any reliqufication party, who just happens to be the guaranteed party-pooper: gasoline.
The rhetoric coming out of Greece has reached a fever pitch. Papademos and Samaras are both out their creating dire images of a post apocalyptic Greek state if a default occurs. Maybe it is a good time to remember what Papademos’ job is. He wasn’t elected. He doesn’t represent the Greek people in a fashion that we are used to – running for election and winning the election. He was foisted on the Greek people by the EU – the very people he is going through the motions of negotiating with. His JOB was to get the Greeks to accept what the EU wants. If he isn’t the most conflicted politician of all time, he is right up there. Samaras may believe it, or may have decided this is his best route to power when the vote is passed and the Greek people decide to kick Papademos out (remember, he was never voted in). Either of them would be more credible if they made any attempt to explain why it would be so disastrous. So far, not one basic fact to support the chaos theory has been given. I will admit that if Greece defaults without any preparation, it would be extremely ugly, but there is no reason not to be prepared. So, if I was the Greek Finance Minister (I would probably have a longer last name, with more vowels) here is an outline of how I would prepare for default.
S&P just downgraded 34 of the 37 Italian banks it covers. Below is the full statement. And so get get one second closer to midnight for Europe's AIG equivalent: A&G. As for S&P, this is the funniest bit: "We classify the Italian government as "supportive" toward its banking sector. We recognize the government's record of providing support to the banking system in times of stress." Even rating agencies now have to rely on sovereign risk transfer as the only upside case to their reports. Oh, and who just went balls to the wall Italian stocks? Why the oldest (no pun intended) contrarian indicator in the book - none other than permawrong Notorious (Barton) B.I.G.G.S.
Did Pelosi and Bachus draw straws about who was going to be subject to a congressional ethics investiation based on their insider trading?
Much has been made of today's Reuters story how "Iran turns to barter for food as sanctions cripple imports" in which we learn that "Iran is turning to barter - offering gold bullion in overseas vaults or tankerloads of oil - in return for food", and whose purpose no doubt is to demonstrate just how crippled the Iranian economy is as a result of the ongoing US embargo. Incidentally this story is 100% the opposite of the Debka-spun groundless disinformation from a few weeks ago that India was preparing to pay for Iran's oil in gold (they got the asset right, but the flow of funds direction hopelessly wrong). While there is certainly truth to the fact that the US is actively seeking to destabilize the local government, we wonder why? After all as the opportunity cost for the existing regime to do something drastic gets ever lower as the popular resentment rises, leaving the local administration with few options but to engage either the US or Israel. Unless of course, this is the ultimate goal. Yet going back to the Reuters story, it would be quite dramatic, if only it was not the case that Iran has been laying the groundwork for a barter economy for many months now, something which various other analysts perceive as the basis for the destruction of the petrodollar system. Perhaps regular readers will recall that back in July, we wrote an article titled "China And Iran To Bypass Dollar, Plan Oil Barter System." Specifically, we wrote that "according to the FT, China has decided to commence a barter system in which Iranian oil is exchanged directly for Chinese exports. The net result: not only a slap for the US Dollar, but implicitly for all fiat intermediaries, as Iran and China are about to prove that when it comes to exchanging hard resources for critical Chinese goods and services, the world's so called reserve currency is completely irrelevant." Seen in this light the fact that Iran is actually proceeding with a barter system, something that had been in the works for quite a while, actually puts the Reuters story in a totally different light: instead of one predicting the imminent demise of the Iranian economy, the conclusion is inverted, and underscores the culmination of what may have been an extended barter preparation period, has finally gone from beta to (pardon the pun) gold, and Iran is now successfully engaging in global trade without the use of the historical reserve currency.
We have discussed forecasts for the second (and certainly not last ) February 29 3 Year LTRO in the past, with expectations for its size ranging from €1 trillion all the way up to a mindboggling €10 trillion. Today, Goldman has conducted a poll focusing on investors and banks, to gauge the sentiment for what has over the past 2 months been taken as the latest Deus Ex, which is really nothing than yet another bout of quantitative easing, only one in which the central bank pretend to be sterilizing 3 year loans by accepting any and virtually all collateral that banks can scrape off the bottom of their balance sheets (as a reminder, back in the financial crisis, Zero Hedge discovered that the Fed was accepting stocks of bankrupt companies as collateral - certainly the ECB is doing the same now). And once the banks get the cash instead of lending it out, or using it for carry trades, they simply use it to plug equity undercapitalization due to massive asset shortfalls on their balance sheets which are mark-to-unicornTM, yet which generate zero cash flow, even as banks have to pay out cash on their liabilities. In essence, the banks convert worthless crap into perfectly normal cash with the ECB as an intermediary: and that is all the LTRO is. Luckily, as we pointed out, even the idiot market is starting to grasp the circular scam nature of this arrangement, and the fact that it is nothing short of Discount Window usage, and because of that, the stigma associated with being seen as needing this last ditch liquidity injection is starting to grind on the banks. It is only a matter of time before hedge funds create portfolios in which they go long banks which openly refuse to use LTRO cash, and short all the other ones (read every single Italian and Spanish bank out there, and most French ones too) because at the end of the day one can only fool insolvency for so long. But once again we are getting ahead of the market by about 3-6 weeks. In the meantime, and looking forward to the next LTRO, whose cash will be used exclusively to build up "firewalls" ahead of the Greek default, here is what Goldman's clients expect to happen...
The idea that the very same economic forces that are currently plaguing Greece, et al., are somehow not relevant to the United States' circumstances does not hold water. As goes the rest of the world, so goes the US. When we back up far enough, it is clear that money and debt are there to reflect and be in service to the production of real things by real people, not the other way around. With too much debt relative to production, it is the debt that will suffer. The same is true of money. Neither are magical substances; they are merely markers for real things. When they get out of balance with reality, they lose value, and sometimes even their entire meaning. This report lays out the case that the US is irretrievably down the rabbit hole of deficits and debt, and that, even if there were endless natural resources of increasing quality available at this point, servicing the debt loads and liabilities of the nation will require both austerity and a pretty serious fall in living standards for most people.
Back in July of 2011, when we first predicted the demise of the second Greek bailout package, even before the details were fully known in "The Fatal Flaw In Europe's Second "Bazooka" Bailout: 82 Million Soon To Be Very Angry Germans, Or How Euro Bailout #2 Could Cost Up To 56% Of German GDP" we asked, "what happens tomorrow when every German (in a population of 82 very efficient million) wakes up to newspaper headlines screaming that their country is now on the hook to 32% of its GDP in order to keep insolvent Greece, with its 50-some year old retirement age, not to mention Ireland, Portugal, and soon Italy and Spain, as part of the Eurozone? What happens when these same 82 million realize that they are on the hook to sacrificing hundreds of years of welfare state entitlements (recall that Otto von Bismark was the original welfare state progentior) just so a few peripheral national can continue to lie about their deficits (the 6 month Greek deficit already is missing Its full year benchmark target by about 20%) and enjoy generous socialist benefits up to an including guaranteed pensions? What happens when an already mortally wounded in the polls Angela Merkel finds herself in the next general election and experiences an epic electoral loss? We will find out very, very shortly." Alas, it has not been all that very "shortly", as once again we underestimated people's stupidity and willingness to pay the piper of a crumbling economic and monetary system. But our prediction is finally starting to come true. Spiegel has just released an article, which encapsulates what well over 50% of Germans think, who say that the time to let Greece loose, has come.
Since the start of the year, global markets have been apparently buoyed by the understanding that Draghi's shift of the ECB to lender-of-last-and-first-resort via the LTRO has removed a significant tail on the risk spectrum with regard to Euro-banks and slowed the potential for contagious transmission of any further sovereign stress. In fact the rally started earlier on the backs of improved perceptions of US growth (decoupling), better tone in global PMIs, and potential for easing in China and the EMs but it does seem that for now the ECB's liquidity spigot rules markets as even in the face of Greek uncertainty, as George Magnus of UBS notes, 'financial markets are most likely to defer to the ECB's monetary policy largesse' as a solution. Both Magnus and his firm's banking team, however, are unequivocal in their view that the next LTRO will unlikely be the last (how many temporary exceptions are still in place around the world?) and as we noted earlier this morning, banks' managements may indeed not be so quick to gorge on the pipe of freshly collateralized loans this time (as markets will eventually reprice a bank that holds huge size carry trades at an inappropriate risk-weighting) leaving the stigma of LTRO borrowing (for carry trades, substitution for private-sector funding, or buying liquidity insurance) as a mark of differentiable concern as opposed to a rising tide lifts all boats as valuations reach extremes relative to 'broken' business models, falling deposits, and declining earnings power.
They expect a EUR300bn take up of the next LTRO, somewhat larger than the previous EUR200bn add-on - but not hugely so - as the banks face a far different picture (in terms of carry profitability) and yet-to-be-proven transmission to real-economy credit-creation that will make any efforts at a fiscal compact harder and harder to implement as its self-defeating austerity leave debtor countries out in the cold. The critical point is that unless the market believes there will be an endless number of future LTROs, covering the very forward-looking private funding markets for banks, then macro- and event-risk will reappear and volatility will flare.
The last week has offered an amusing display of the difference between the cheerleading corporate mainstream media, lying Wall Street shills and the critical thinking analysts. What passes for journalism at CNBC and the rest of the mainstream print and TV media is beyond laughable. Their America is all about feelings. Are we confident? Are we bullish? Are we optimistic about the future? America has turned into a giant confidence game. The governing elite spend their time spinning stories about recovery and manipulating public opinion so people will feel good and spend money. Facts are inconvenient to their storyline. The truth is for suckers. They know what is best for us and will tell us what to do and when to do it.... The drones at this government propaganda agency relentlessly massage the data until they achieve a happy ending. They use a birth/death model to create jobs out of thin air, later adjusting those phantom jobs away in a press release on a Friday night. They create new categories of Americans to pretend they aren’t really unemployed. They use more models to make adjustments for seasonality. Then they make massive one-time adjustments for the Census. Essentially, you can conclude that anything the BLS reports on a monthly basis is a wild ass guess, massaged to present the most optimistic view of the world. The government preferred unemployment rate of 8.3% is a terrible joke and the MSM dutifully spouts this drivel to a zombie-like public. If the governing elite were to report the truth, the public would realize we are in the midst of a 2nd Great Depression.
While we wait for the antics in Greece to result in some announcement, I can’t help but think about how different the Greek situation is from when JPM bought Bear Stearns (shortly after the last time the Giants won the super bowl). The “weekend” deadline for Bear was neither artificial, nor self-imposed. Without a deal, Bear would have failed that week as risk aversion hit an extreme. Greece has until the March 20th payments, so all the deadlines we keep hearing about are mostly negotiating ploys. The negotiators in Greece will have to approve whatever they decide, so they will need some time. When Jamie Dimon said “done” on the Bear deal, it was done. It also meant a very savvy investor had his people do the analysis and was comfortable with the deal (I’m sure the Fed backstop didn’t hurt). But in Europe, almost none of the people involved in the negotiations have the authority to “pull the trigger”. They have to go back to their respective parties or groups or special interests they represent and get the deals approved. Even more bizarre, is how few of the people involved have financial experience, let alone investment experience. They are largely politicians. The Minister of Finance was the Minister of Defense less than a year ago. The IIF team has limited experience in distressed debt. The “technocrat” in charge has experience, but like many of the Troika members it is as an economist in a functioning economy – not the disaster that is Greece.