When wondering why AAPL disappoints once more on its next earnings release, please pull a Bill Gross and look in the mirror, dear broke consumer, because it is your fault. At least that is the spin by the CEO of France Telecom, who says that iPhone sales are now being threatened by, drumroll please, "frugal buyers." That's right: in France "frugal" is now a dirty word. Not socialism, not 75% taxes, not budget ministers charged with rooting out tax fraud and lying about their Swiss bank accounts, not movie legends who can't wait to get Russian passports - it's "frugality" that is at fault. Because how dare French consumers not load up on cheap, government subsidized credit card debt and splurge like good old Americans who can't wait to pledge their shotguns as collateral for clunkers, and who haven't paid their mortgage in years courtesy of pervasive debt forgiveness for deadbeats, spending on iCrap instead? The France Telecom CEO demands answers now!
Am I a great investor? No, not yet. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway’s “Jake” in The Sun Also Rises, “wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” But the thinking so and the reality are often miles apart. When looking in the mirror, the average human sees a six-plus or a seven reflection on a scale of one to ten. The big nose or weak chin is masked by brighter eyes or near picture perfect teeth. And when the public is consulted, the vocal compliments as opposed to the near silent/ whispered critiques are taken as a supermajority vote for good looks. So it is with investing, or any career that is exposed to the public eye. The brickbats come via the blogs and ambitious competitors, but the roses dominate one’s mental and even physical scrapbook. In addition to hope, it is how we survive day-to-day. We look at the man or woman in the mirror and see an image that is as distorted from reality as the one in a circus fun zone.
The underlying question in Bill Gross' latest monthly letter, built around Jeremy Stein's (in)famous speech earlier this month, is the following: "How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values?" He then proceeds to provide a very politically correct answer, which is to be expected for the manager of the world's largest bond fund. Our answer is simpler: We know there is an irrational exuberance asset bubble, because the Fed is still in existence. Far simpler.
Hard assets are gaining momentum once again as market participants digest the potential impact of central bank printing initiatives. After last year's record level of central bank intervention, 2013 is gearing up to be an even more prolific year on the money-printing front. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently unveiled Japan's tenth Quantitative Easing program to follow the country's current $224 billion stimulus announced on January 11th. The US Federal Reserve is steadily printing US$85 billion a month under its QE3 & QE4 programs, and reports indicate that the European Central Bank is close to launching its much-awaited Open Market Transaction (OMT) program to purchase European sovereign debt. It's a money-printing party and everyone's invited. Even the new Bank of England head, Mark Carney, has hinted of plans to launch more monetary stimulus. Professional investors have noticed and are expressing concern over the consequences of concerted currency devaluation and the continuation of zero-percent interest rates. Despite being long-time precious metals enthusiasts and active investors in gold and silver, we did not focus on "the other precious metals", platinum or palladium, until very recently.
When even a "bond king" says the stock market is broken, is it not time for "the retail investor is coming back" cheerleaders to finally throw in the towel?
Gross: After open, stock mkt doesn’t move ‘til close. Very strange. Fast trades clipping .01’s but little risk taking. New form capitalism
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) February 14, 2013
Whether you're aware of it or not, a great battle is being waged around us. It is a war of two opposing narratives: the future of our economy and our standard of living. The dominant story, championed by flotillas of press releases and parading talking heads, tells an inspiring tale of recovery and return to growth. The other side, less visible but with a full armament of high-caliber data, tells a very different story. One of growing instability, downside risk, and inequality. As different as they are in substance, they both share one fundamental prediction – and this is why you should care: This battle is about to break. And when it does, one side will turn out to be much more 'right' than the other. The time for action has arrived. To position yourself in the direction of the break you think is most likely to happen. It's time to choose a side.
- Bersani's lead over Berlusconi continues to erode, now just 3.6 Pts, or inside error margin, in Tecne Poll
- Spain gears up for U.S. debt investor meetings (Reuters)
- PBOC Set for Record Weekly Liquidity Injection (WSJ)
- RBS Trader Helped UBS’s Hayes With Libor Bribes, Regulators Say (BBG)
- ECB, Ireland reach bank debt deal (Reuters)
- AMR-US Airways Near Merger Agreement (WSJ)
- Monte Paschi says no more derivatives losses (Reuters) ... remember this
- Harvard’s Gopinath Helps France Beat Euro Straitjacket (BBG) - by sliding into recession?
- Obama Relents on Secret Drone Memo (WSJ)
- Brennan to face questions on interrogations, drones and leaks (Reuters)
- Wall Street Success With Germans Boomerangs (BBG)
- Khamenei rebuffs U.S. offer of direct talks (Reuters)
- Boeing Preps Redesign to Get 787 Flying (WSJ)
While we can only hope the following screed posted in an otherwise serious BusinessWeek, by David Kemper, CEO of Commerce Bankshare, and more importantly, a former president of the Federal Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve and thus indicative of the kind of "advice" the Fed receives, is a joke we have a very nagging feeling that the text below is actually serious. Which is why instead of Friday humor, we have decided to err on the side of caution and call this segment Friday tragicomedy. Because with a statement such as the following: "Why not expand the Fed balance sheet exponentially, from its current $3 trillion to $33 trillion... Would $30 trillion in extra buying power be inflationary when our entire current GDP is only about $15 trillion? Maybe, maybe not—but we need a game-changer here. First let’s celebrate the Fed’s record profits and its contribution to reducing our deficit. Then let’s seize the moment to do something truly grand: eliminate that stubborn deficit. We have the tools, and I, for one, say let’s give it a try."... it shows that the idiotic trillion dollar coin, Sheila Bair's farcical suggestion to let every American borrow $10 million from the Fed at zero rates, or even our suggestion from a year ago that the government build a Death Star, may appear as sheer genius in comparison to what else the Fed may be considering, and implement, before all this is said and done.
Our credit-based financial markets and the economy it supports are levered, fragile and increasingly entropic – it is running out of energy and time. When does money run out of time? The countdown begins when investable assets pose too much risk for too little return; when lenders desert credit markets for other alternatives such as cash or real assets.
MARTIN SMITH: Is that really the job of a prosecutor, to worry about anything other than simply pursuing justice?
LANNY BREUER: Well, I think I am pursuing justice. And I think the entire responsibility of the department is to pursue justice. But in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand.
“Gold, the way we look at it, is anywhere from being undervalued to being seriously undervalued,” Kaye said. “We’re in the early stages, in our judgment, of what would likely be the world’s largest short squeeze in any instrument.”
Gross: Report claims Germany moving gold from NY/Paris back to Frankfurt. Central banks don’t trust each other?
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) January 15, 2013
PIMCO founder and co chief investment officer Bill Gross gives no credence to the trillion dollar platinum coin scheme. "We feel that such an action would not only jeopardise the U.S. Fed and Treasury standing with Congress but with creditor nations internationally - particularly the Russians and Chinese." It appears to be a bit of a stunt by and may be a convenient distraction away from the substantive issue of how the U.S. manages to address its massive budget deficits, national debt and unfunded liabilities of between $50 trillion and $100 trillion. It may also be designed to create the false impression that there are easy solutions to the intractable US debt crisis - thereby lulling investors and savers into a false sense of security ... again. Gross said that subject to the debt ceiling, the Fed is buying everything that Treasury can issue. He warns that we have this "conglomeration of monetary and fiscal policy" as not just the US is doing this but Japan and the Eurozone is doing this also. Gross has recently criticised the Fed's 'government financing scheme.' He has in recent months been warning of the medium term risk of inflation due to money creation and recently warned of 'inflationary dragons.'
With gold prices dropping (notably divergent from the ever expanding global central bank balance sheets) but record-breaking levels of physical gold being purchased, we continue to reflect on the other 'Great Rotation' that we suspect is occurring as the New Year begins - that from paper gold to physical gold. Who better to discuss the nuances of this dilemma than Eric Sprott as he outlines to TrimTabs' Charles Biderman the relative strengths and weaknesses of ETFs like GLD and SLV, physical-based ETFs such as PHYS and PSLV, and physical holdings themselves. While the new meme is that the Fed may be considering pulling back (on its 'flow') sooner than expected, reality is far different (as Bill Gross recently agreed with us) and that fact makes the following brief clip even more compelling.
Back on December 23, we presented one of the past year's most disturbing reports, the BCG's "Ending the Era of Ponzi Finance" which explained, quite succinctly, why the economy of the developed world, which is nothing but one big ponzi scheme, is approaching its inevitable end, in which existing principles will no longer be applicable nor available to kick the can down the road. The drivers for this are numerous (and all listed in the report), with soaring public and private debt only one of the main forces behind the coming collapse into a Keynesian singularity. Yet perhaps the biggest threat of all has nothing to do with the world's balance sheet, but its income statement, and specifically the category for Research and Development, or, as it is better known in refined economic circles, "productivity" - it is here that things are rapidly turning from bad to worse, and why the chart below (which we felt a need to emphasize, hence the repost) is probably the best summation of what the world has to look forward to, or, as the case may be, not.