Bill Gross may be credited with inventing the term 'the New Normal', although his recommendation to purchase gold above all other asset classes, something which only fringe blogs such as this one have been saying is the best trade (in terms of return, Sharpe Ratio, and the ability to sleep soundly) for the past three and a half years, he is sure to be increasingly ostracized by the establishment, and told to take all his newfangled idioms with him in his exile to less than serious people land. Which takes us to David Rosenberg, who today revisits his own definition of the New Normal. And it, too, is just as applicable as that of the Pimco boss: "The new normal is that the economy doesn't drive markets any more." Short and sweet, although it also is up for debate whether the economy ever drove the markets in the first place. But that would open up a whole new conspiratorial can of worms, and is a discussion best saved for after Ben Bernanke decides to save the "housing market" by buying more hundreds of billions in MBS and lowering mortgage yields further, even though mortgage rates already are at record lows (something that mortgage applications apparently couldn't care less about as we showed last week), while "avoiding" to do everything in his power to boost the S&P, which recently was at 5 year highs, and certainly "avoiding" to listen to Chuck Schumer telling him to do his CTRL+P job, and "get to work" guaranteeing Schumer's donors have another whopper of a bonus season.
Even Bill Gross Admits that Gold Holds Its Value, While - In an Era of Central Bank Money Printing- Paper Money Doesn't
When it comes to the NEW QE, everyone has an opinion, and most seem to believe that the NEW QE will come next week, now that the US economy added "just" 96,000 people (but, but, the unemployment rate 'fell'). Certainly, and far more importantly, if the most recent FOMC minutes are any guide, the Fed shares this view. Sadly, as so often happens, most, and this includes the FOMC's various voting members, have once again made up their minds without actually evaluating the limitations posed by simple math. After all it is far easier to form an opinion, and actually think about the underlying facts later. The math, for those who actually have looked at the numbers behind the scenes, is scary (in UBS' words, not ours).
Here is the math.
Gold prices languished from 1980 to 2000 and had declining correlations with debt levels because GDP growth was sufficient to mute fears about budget and deficit issues. The current economic recovery has been too weak to support a sustained rise in real rates above the 2% level that has acted an inflection point for gold prices. With energy and food inflation deepening and soon to affect consumer price indices, interest rates may have to rise significantly in order to restore real interest rates above 2%. This is with ex Federal Reserve Chairman Volcker did in the late 1970’s - when he increased interest rates to above 15% in order to protect the dollar and aggressively tackle inflation. It is unlikely that similar ‘hawkish’ monetary policy would be implemented by the Bernanke Fed today. It is unlikely that they would and even doubtful if they could – given the appalling fiscal situation and levels of debt in the US and global economy. A continuing succession of higher real gold prices above the inflation adjusted high, or real record high, of $2,500/oz is likely until we see interest return to more normal levels and zero percent interest policies are supplanted by positive real interest rates.
Having operatied for years under ZIRP, and with the NIRP neutron bomb just around the corner, and already implemented in various European countries, one question remains: can banks be banks, i.e., can they make money, in a world in which borrowing short and lending long, no longer works, courtesy of ubiquitous and pervasive central planning which is now engaged solely and almost exclusively (the other central bank ventures being of course to keep FX rates and equities within an acceptable range) on the shape of the yield curve. Since 2009 our answer has been a resounding no. Today, Bill Gross speaks up as well, and his answer is even more distrubing: "If the dancing has slowed down, then the reason is not just an overweight partner. It’s that the price of money (be it in the form of a real interest rate, a quality risk spread, or both) is too low. Our entire finance-based monetary system – led by banks but typified by insurance companies, investment management firms and hedge funds as well – is based on an acceptable level of carry and the expectation of earning it. When credit is priced such that carry is no longer as profitable at a customary amount of leverage/risk, then the system will stall, list, or perhaps even tip over." Indeed, according to Gross central banks have now clearly sown the seeds of the entire financial system's own destruction. That he is right we have no doubt. The only question: how soon until he is proven right.
Many have talked about it. More have eschewed it. But Minsky's hugely important insight in asking the question "Can 'It' Happen Again?" regarding the Depression remains critical reading for any- and every-one who opines day-in and day-out on how much we need or do not need Central Bank money-printing. As Bill Gross put it: "Minsky, originator of the commonsensical “stability leads to instability” thesis; the economist with naming rights for 2008’s “Minsky Moment”; the exposer of the financial fragility of modern capitalism; probably couldn’t imagine the liquidity trap qualities of zero-based money, because who could have conceived 30 or 40 years ago that interest rates could ever approach zero per cent for an extended period of time? Probably no one. Nor, more importantly I suppose, can Ben Bernanke, Mario Draghi or Mervyn King. In their historical models, credit is as credit does, expanding perpetually after brief periods of recessionary contraction, showering economic activity with liquid fertiliser for productive investment and inevitable growth." For a long-weekend, we present the full 30-year-old must-read paper.
A new and important bullish indicator for the gold market is that gold calls are at highs not seen since the October 2008 low as option traders go long gold in the belief that it will go higher. It suggests that option traders believe that U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will hint at or announce additional money printing and monetary easing at the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, symposium. Alternatively, it suggests that they are bullish on gold due to the risks posed to the dollar and the risk of inflation taking off. The ratio of outstanding calls to buy the SPDR Gold Trust versus puts to sell jumped to 2.69 to 1 on August 24th and reached 2.76 earlier this month, the highest level since October 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Ownership of calls is up 26% since the July 20th options expiry. Ten of the most owned actively owned ETF option contracts are bullish. Option traders are regarded as savvier and tend to be more sophisticated then the more speculative futures traders.
Under widespread NIRP, pensions, annuities, insurers, banks and ultimately all savers will suffer a slow but steady decline in real wealth over time. Just as ZIRP has stuck around since the early 2000’s, NIRP may be here to stay for many years to come. Looking back at how much widespread damage ZIRP has caused since its introduction back in 2002, it’s hard not to expect that negative interest rates will cause even more harm, and at a faster clip. In our view, NIRP represents the death knell for the financial system as we know it today. There are simply too many working parts of the financial industry that are directly impacted by negative rates, and as long as NIRP persists, they will be helplessly stuck suffering from its ill-effects.
The sit-back-and-relax 'buy and hold' strategy that unqualified portfolio managers banked on for so many years has perished in this highly leveraged, central-banking-dominated environment. There is something, though, that is more troubling for the US economy, and specifically middle-class laborers: Robotics. The reality is that this atypical Great Recession has forced business owners to become savvy: businesses have learned how to operate--and even thrive--in this dry economic environment, and the main tool that has allowed them to do so is cost-cutting. Unfortunately for the labor market, these cost-reduction techniques are sticking, and for the time being business owners (particularly manufacturers) see no reason to add more human employees when they can purchase robots at a cheaper rate.
As Bill Gross has been more than happy to demonstrate on several recent occasions, the recent sell off in US Treasurys has been sharp and violent, wiping out all year to date capital gains in the 10 Year in a few short weeks. The flipside to that is that this is not the first such headfake in the bond market, and it certainly will not be the last as David Rosenberg shows today with a chart summarizing all the "spasms" experienced in the 10 year Treasury since 2007. In fact, based on the average duration and move severity, the 10 Year sell off may not only continue for twice as long (on average it has been 49 days, and we are only 19 days in in the current sell off episode), but the final tally may be a further selloff well into the 2% range (the average decline in yield is 88 bps, double the 43 bps widening to date). At the end of the day will it make much of a difference? Very likely not: after all the deflationary implosion has far more to go before all the central banks engage in coordinated easing, and as a result superglue the CTRL and P buttons in the on position, leading to the final round in the global currency devaluation race.
There are already three former European central bankers who criticize more or less openly the European Central Bank (ECB). All these older central bankers experienced the inflationary periods in the 1970s in detail, whereas the younger ones seem not to grasp what inflation means. Modern central bankers seem to think that monetary inflation will not lead to price inflation in the long-term. This might be true in countries where asset prices need to de-leverage after the bust of real-estate bubbles. But it is certainly not true in states like Germany, Finland or Switzerland, that did not have a real-estate bubble till 2008. With current low employment and the aging population, qualified personnel who speaks the local language will get rare. PIMCO’s Bill Gross might be right saying that soon employees want to get a part of the cake and not only the stock holders. This essentially implies wage inflation, the enemy of the 1970s.
Two weeks ago, PIMCO's Bill Gross stirred up a few ivory-tower academics, permabull sell-side commission-makers, and bloggers pressured by Series [X] investors to generate maximum page views when he called for the death of the cult of equities. His main point was the apparent paradox that the total return on equities can outpace GDP growth over long periods. While there has been much gnashing of teeth over this comment, Morgan Stanley has very succinctly clarified and confirmed that this is not so much a paradox as a Catch-22. The key point is that, in aggregate, investors do not typically reinvest their dividends (or coupons); and akin to Keynes' paradox of thrift, if investors actually tried this en masse then the historical returns reported in total return indices would be unachievable. So here’s the Catch-22: over the long run theoretical total returns can exceed GDP so long as investors don’t actually try to capture those returns. But if ever investors try to achieve such GDP-plus total returns, it will be impossible for returns to stay above GDP growth. Hence, equities for the short- and long-term, are essentially a Ponzi scheme - as long as everyone buys-and-holds - but if 'someone' decides (or is forced) to take-profits, equity ROE will rapidly game-theoretically collapse to GDP growth.
A week ago we brought you Elliott Management's summary opinion on US paper: "We Make This Recommendation To Our Friends: If You Own US Debt Sell It Now." Today, Bill Gross doubles down.
Gross: The #Fed is where bad bonds go to die. Today it was 10-years. Tomorrow 30-years. Stay short my friends.
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) August 14, 2012
GROSS: Do bond markets take heart from Ryan selection? Not me. He talks lower deficits but really believes in lower taxes – exact opposite.
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) August 13, 2012
Virtually all developments in Europe over the past two years can be easily explained using a simple version of three actor game theory. So can the endless delays in reaching an actionable resolution. The problem, however, as Bill Gross earlier, and now Bank of America, shows, is that the incentive to delay, based at least on one the actors' preferences - that of the market - is becoming very tenuous, and "the risk of an ugly end game is rising." By implication, this means that the goodwill of both Europe's monetary and political authorities is waning by the day, as last Thursday demonstrated so very vividly.