Are libertarians are more rational than most people? "Not at all, not at all, but we're rational enough to realize none of us has all the answers. To paraphrase Dirty Harry, politicians and planners and control freaks gotta know their own limitations."
The myth of harsh lending conditions in the US is probably only matched in its disconnect from reality by the just as entertaining narrative of the "one-time, non-recurring" harsh winter crushing Q1 GDP. A narrative which even needed support from none other than former Fed Chairman Bernanke who allegedly was denied a mortgage refinancing on the $672K loan he still owes for his 3-bedroom, 2100 square foot home (a story which is about as credible as 17 year olds making $72 million by cornering the penny-stock market). For the truth we go to the Office Of the Comptroller of the Currency, which just reported in its annual survey that for the third year in a row, U.S. banks relaxed loan underwriting standards, "a trend mirroring the lax lending just before the financial crisis." To wit: "This year's survey showed a continued easing in underwriting standards, with trends very similar to those seen from 2004 through 2006," said Jennifer Kelly, senior deputy comptroller for bank supervision.
Lots of old market hands are talking about how its similar to the Russia default and crash of ‘98 all over again.. Actually... its worse. Much worse.
Yields spike, damage spreads. Investors try to bail out while they still can.
In the most ironic twist of all amid the "currency crisis" enveloping Russia, we suspect the world's central bankers will be looking on jealously as The CBR manages to achieve precisely what The BoJ and The Fed are desperate to achieve. In raising inflation expectations, The FT reports, Russians are hurriedly turning their depreciating Rubles into jewelry, furniture, cars, and apartments as the currency's collapse prompts a shopping spree that will likely lead to a surge in GDP. As one anxious shopper noted, "none of us know what’s happening. We’re all worried that the currency will keep falling," and so "it’s time to buy furniture!" And sure enough, shopping centers are currently experiencing a spectacular rush.
Not that all politicians are bad, but those who have genuinely good intentions get drowned out, within seconds, by the ones for whom the need to have power over others is more important than anything else. And, on the whole they’re not very smart. So they get advisors who they feel do know, and these advisors all come from the same small niche of society that steer everybody’s hard-earned cash towards that same small niche of society. 99% of economists are religious nuts who do even the Roman Catholic church one better because they chart graphs to ‘prove’ their beliefs are true - they adapt the world to their theories, not the other way around, as physicists do.
Not a day passes without pundits on either side of the debate, eager to make their case that the acute, nearly 50% plunge in the price of crude, swear up and down their preferred economic ideology of choice that said plunge is [bullish|bearish] for the economy. The reality is that the true impact of the great oil crash of 2014 will not be revealed for at least several months, however for those who can't afford to wait, or simply lack the patience, here is perhaps the most comprehensive view of the pros and cons of what has now been dubbed a "textbook macroeconomic shock" by Deutsche Bank.
It should come as no surprise that Republicans would be willing to vote for a bill that seeks to indemnify Wall Street from future failure. After all, Wall Street's proximity to the GOP, and vice versa, is hardly a contentious issue. And yet, it was "only" 162 republicans who voted for the Cromnibus - some 67 voted against. Which means that whipping the 57 democrats who also voted for the Bill to get the crucial 218 passing votes was far more critical to assure passage of the swaps push out provision. What exactly motivated those 57 Democrats to break ranks with the rest of their party - the 139 democrats voted against the spending bill - and to be not only on the receiving end of Elizabeth Warren's ire, but also accountable for dumping a few hundred trillions of derivatives into the laps of US taxpayers. The answer, what else: money.
Simply put, the US government has reached a point of no return.
In our own era, the Fed prints excess dollars without concern that they be redeemable in gold. Which means that our capital misallocation is extensive and long-term, our recessions are long and deep, our growth trend is shallow, and our complacency about how right we are in contrast to the benighted past is callow and pitiable.
The central banks are now out of dry powder - impaled on the zero-bound. That means any resort to a massive new round of money printing can not be disguised as an effort to “stimulate” the macro-economy by temporarily driving interest rates to “extraordinarily” low levels. They are already there. Instead, a Bernanke style balance sheet explosion like that which stopped the financial meltdown in the fall and winter of 2008-2009 will be seen for exactly what it is—-an exercise in pure monetary desperation and quackery. So duck and cover. This storm could be a monster.
With Detroit emerging from bankruptcy yesterday, its experience under Chapter 9 was apparently so successful (occasional subsequent massive power outage notwithstanding), that suddenly every other insolvent city in the US is also i) admitting it is in dire straits and ii) hoping to recreate the Detroit experience. Enter East Cleveland. As Bloomberg Brief reports, the council president in East Cleveland said if she had her way, the city would follow Detroit's path and become Ohio's first municipality to file for bankruptcy to help solve its fiscal woes. State Auditor Dave Yost said the suburb of 17,500, where oil baron John D. Rockefeller once had a summer estate, is insolvent. Things in the small town, representative of most small cities in middle America, are so bad "the community lacks a working ladder truck in its fire department, had its mobile phones shut off and faces $1.7 million in unpaid bills."
The so-called economic recovery that America has experienced in recent years is "unfair" and "distorted" according to Elliott Management's Paul Singer. Speaking at The DealBook Conference in New York, Singer warned that the recent 'great' jobs data is "part of the distrortion" that he has so vociferously ascribed (having previously noted that he "does not think the current optimism is warranted.") But when asked if the Fed should be blamed for income inequality in America, Singer exclaimed "Yes, they are the enablers."
While none of the following analysis suggests that a market crash is imminent, it does imply that we are very late in the current market and economic cycle. A market melt up into 2015 would certainly be exciting, but should be used to sell overly priced assets to what will probably be a dwindling supply of "greater fools."