Back on May 14, when the S&P was at 1651 or 50 points lower, and when David Tepper made his first book-talking, semi-annual CNBC appearance in which he "blessed the market and awaited the manufacturing renaissance", he made two points about the taper: it's bullish no matter what, namely its removal would mean the economy is improving (we now know it isn't thanks to the Fed and Q4 GDP estimates which are rapidly sliding to 2% or lower), while a taper staying put would mean the Fed would continue pumping stocks higher artificially indefinitely. Today, he did a repeat appearance, in which in addition to the usual market pumping rhetoric, everyone was most interested in how he would spin the recent stunner by the Fed which effectively made the taper a 2014 event. His take: "The Fed won't taper for a long time... So that's definitely sort of going to be a push-up to markets." Couldn't have said it better: but to paraphrase - Taper is bullish no matter what; No Taper is bullish-er.
There is no safe haven, Marc Faber tells Bloomberg TV's Tom Keene, "The best you can hope for is that you have a diversified portfolio of different assets and that they don't all collapse at the same time." Bank deposits are no longer safe; money and treasury bills are not 100% safe; and equities in the US are relatively expensive by any valuation metric. However, at around $1250, gold is a buy, Faber adds on the basis of the ongoing monetization of debt globally. The debt ceiling debacle will lead to the Fed stepping up to directly fund the government (something it already implicitly does but mainstream media prefer not to consider). Faber clarifies the idiocy of the discussions, "both parties want to spend, it's just on different things," with "the idiocies of government" having grown way too large, wasting money everywhere... the Democrats are "buying votes" and the Republicans funding the military complex. The debt-ceiling is merely a symptom of the problem, Faber concludes, that "government has grown disproportionately large and that retards economic growth."
Contrary to the all "rose-colored glasses" reports by the Fed released in the past year, which constantly talked up the "economic recovery" only to punk everyone - economists and market participants alike - when it stunned markets with its no taper announcement in September, over fears what this would do to the economy, the Federal Advisory Council's view on things is decidedly less "rosy."
With Janet Yellen now confirmed as Bernanke Mark 2, it is time to recall that in addition to a new Chairman, four of the Fed's voting members will also rotate. And while below is the latest preview of the voting FOMC members (previously 2011 and 2012) ranked by Reuters in terms of their dovishness and hawiskness, the reality is that the peripheral Fed presidents (here we focus on the Hawks obviously) are nothing but figureheads whose only function is to be roundly ignored if and when they dissent with the new Chairman.
Gold may not be money, but the proceeds from selling it sure is, at least to the IMF, which moments ago announced that it has received government approval to "transfer the profits from gold sales low-income countries." Reuters reports that "The International Monetary Fund has received approval from its member nations to transfer the profits from gold sales conducted a few years ago to a fund to help low-income nations, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on Thursday. "We have just reached the threshold of enough approval from our membership to transfer the existing gold profit to meet the financing needs of our low-income countries," she said at a news briefing opening the fall meetings of the IMF and World Bank." What was left unsaid is that the bailout needs of the high-income countries, once the debt crsisis comes back with a vengeance as it always does - which as the Keynesian uberminds have demonstrated can only be "solved" with more debt, more monetization, and more pent up inflation - will make sure that gold prices jump right back to new highs at which point the IMF can sell another batch of gold to fund the "poor countries" again, and so on, repeating the process until all fiath is extinguished, or until the IMF runs out of gold, whichever comes first.
What if the Treasury were to go over the X date (date beyond which the Treasury cannot honor all its payments) without the debt ceiling being raised? As BofAML notes, the Treasury estimates the X date to be October 17, though they believe that the Treasury may have enough cash and incoming tax receipts to last a few more days. In either case, the date is not too far out. Market concerns over possible postponed payment have been rising as indicated by the performance of October and November bills. What are the options of for the Treasury?
This chart from Citi's Matt King pretty much sums it up.
If there is one day the Fed's trading desk actually did want futures lower, if only for purely optical purposes and to at least suggest that the government, and not the Fed, is still in charge of the US, it is the day when the US government - for the first time in 17 years - has shut down. They certainly did not want the S&P to be up nearly 0.5% mere hours after Congress and the presidency confirmed to the world that in a world in which "the Chairman gets to work", a functioning government is completely irrelevant. Yet this is precisely what is going on. What is making matters worse is that on the other side of the world, Japan also finally announced the well-telegraphed sales tax increase to8%, offset by a JPY5 trillion yen "stimulus" which however Japan said, much to the Chagrin of Mrs. Watanabe and a 100 pip overnight plunge in the USDJPY, would be funded not with more new bond issuance (and thus without new "wealth effect" generating monetization). It is unclear just how it will be funded but since increasingly more global fiscal and monetary policy is based on science fiction we know better than to ask.
Italian bank holdings of Italian debt: €400 billion, an all time high. Oops.
Fingers of Instability
Frequent readers will recall that in the past, on several occasions, we expected that MBIA would rise due to two key catalysts: a massive short interest and the expectation that a BAC settlement would provide the company with much needed liquidity. That thesis played out earlier this year resulting in a stock price surge that also happened to be the company's 52 week high. However, now that we have moved away from the technicals and litigation catalysts, and looking purely at the fundamentals, it appears that MBIA has a new problem. One involving Zombies. These freshly-surfacing problems stem from a particular pair of Zombie CLO’s – Zombie-I and Zombie-II (along with Zombie-III, illiquid/black box middle-market CLO’s). While information is difficult to gather, we have heard that MBIA would be lucky to recover much more than $400 million from the underlying insured Zombie assets over the next three years, which would leave them with a nearly $600 million loss on their $1 billion of exposure which would materially and adversely impact the company's liquidity. And as it may take them a while to liquidate assets in a sure-to-be contentious intercreditor fight – their very own World War Z – MBIA may well have to part with the vast majority of the $1 billion in cash, before gathering some of the potential recovery.
Back in April, in a desperate scramble to raise liquidity courtesy of a hail mary Goldman syndicated term loan, we penned "Confused By What Is Going On At JCP? Here's The Pro Forma Cap Table And The Cliff Notes", where in addition to the obvious - that this is merely buying a few months for the melting icecube company which with every passing day is closer to a Chapter 11 (or 7) bankruptcy filing - we also laid out that what Goldman was doing was merely positioning itself to be at the top of the company's capital structure with a super secured and overcollateralized credit facility, through what is effectively a pre-petition DIP... As it turns out we only had to wait for five months before the same Goldman that raised the company's emergency liquidity term loan turned around and launched a vicious attack on the same company that paid it millions in dollars in underwriting fees. Specifically, what Goldman just did is write a report (perhaps one of the best bearish cross-asset investment theses we have seen to come out of the firm in a long time) in which it laid out, in a lucid and compelling manner, why JCP is doomed. The report is titled appropriately enough: "Initiate on JCP with Underperform: Looking for cash in the name"... and not finding it.
It would appear, as uncomfortable as it may be for the mainstream, that the Fed's Bullard has been reading Zero Hedge and realizes the error of his (and his academic friends') ways. In his speech today he noted: "Many of my friends in academia and in financial markets argue that changes in the pace of purchases should not have an important effect in financial markets (and hence would have no eventual effect on the real economy either). However, the empirical evidence from these two episodes provides striking confirmation that changes in the expected pace of purchases act just like conventional monetary policy." In other words, as we said when QE3 was announced, "it's the flow not the stock that matters" and implicitly - as Bullard confirms - tapering asset purchases has the same effect as hiking rates.
The Fed's failure yesterday to announce some sort of tapering of its QE program, despite the consensus of an overwhelming percentage of economists who expected action, once again reveals the degree to which mainstream analysts have overestimated the strength of our current economy. The Fed understands, as the market seems not to, that the current "recovery" could not survive without continuation of massive monetary stimulus. Mainstream economists have mistaken the symptoms of the Fed's monetary expansion, most notably rising stock and real estate prices, as signs of real and sustainable growth. But the current asset price bubbles have nothing to do with the real economy. To the contrary, they are setting up for a painful correction that will likely be worse than the one we experienced five years ago. Following this playbook, the Fed will likely maintain the pretense that tapering is a near term possibility and that it has a credible plan on the shelf to bring an end to QE. In reality the Fed is stalling for time and hoping that the economy will inexplicably roar back to life. Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy.