A zombie government armed with accounting tricks has bailed out a zombie banking industry using even more financial phoniness. A few numbers pushed here and there, and the industry is earning record profits. But out in the real world where people live and work, things aren't so rosy. Zombies make negligent landlords and dangerous neighbors.
Same political disfunction. Same blue team indifference to soaring government debt. Same hypocrisy from those on the red team who helped set debt on its upward trajectory. Same lack of any serious effort to tackle the most important issue – the unsustainable paths of our major entitlement programs. But there is one difference.
In light of this morning's Obama-Boehner volleys, we thought a reflection on the facts was useful. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its 2013 Long-Term Budget Outlook yesterday morning, and its government debt projections are dismal... But the CBO’s featured chart only tells a small part of the story. The baseline scenario happens to be bogus. Even as it shows our addiction to debt worsening, it doesn’t do justice to the severity of that addiction. (You may want to show the chart to your children. After all, they’ll be the ones who’ll have to deal with the debt we’re piling on today.)
As we head for the fateful FOMC announcement on September 18, US data have continued to moderate. Accordingly, the consensus seems to be converging on a $10-15 billion initial reduction in monthly purchases (mostly focused on the Treasury side and less so on MBS) with any 'tightening' talk tempered by exaggerated forward-guidance discussions and the potential to drop thresholds to appear more easy for longer, since as CS notes, assuming Fed policymakers have learned anything in the last four months, they must know that the markets view “tapering” as “tightening,” even though they themselves for the most part do not. Thus, they are going to need to sugar-coat the message of tapering somehow. But as UBS notes, political risks have grown and there is little clarity on the Fed's thinking about the housing market. This leaves 3 crucial surprise scenarios for the FOMC "Taper" outcome.
This chart seems to sum up our fiscal challenges as well as anything else...
The gorilla in the room may sleep soundly for the rest of July and August, but expect a foul temper when he wakes up in September. At that time, Congress once again haggles over our debt ceiling.
Nike recently published a series of ads declaring “winning takes care of everything,” in reference to Tiger Woods’ recapture of the world #1 golfer ranking. The slogan went over with certain critics like an illegal ball drop. Many economists insist that “economic growth takes care of everything,” and the related debate is no less contentious than the Nike ad kerfuffle. Listening to some pundits, you would think there’s one group that appreciates economic growth while everyone else wants to see the economy crumble. It seems to me, though, that growth is just like winning – there’s no such thing as an anti-winning camp, nor is there an anti-growth camp. More fairly, much of the growth debate boils down to those who think mostly about long-run sustainable growth and those who advocate damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead growth. I’ll break off one piece of this and consider: How much of everything does growth take care of?
We all know what's supposed to happen in the global economy: we get more of everything: more stuff manufactured, more coal dug up and burned, more "aggregate demand" i.e. insatiable desire for more of everything, more innovation, more wealth, more money printed, more debt taken on to buy more stuff and more education, more tourists occupying more beaches sipping more drinks, more strip malls built, more airports expanded, more jobs created, more taxes collected-- more "growth" of everything, in every way and every day. But what if this baseline scenario doesn't appear and the center cannot hold, and the Status Quo devolves - there will be less of everything, not more, and a gradual but steady erosion of all "growth" baselines: fewer jobs, lower wages, fewer taxes collected, less profits, fewer retail outlets. In this case, printing more money and spewing more reassuring propaganda will no longer tamp down the crisis. Rather, the failure of these Status Quo responses will unleash an even more destabilizing crisis.
As expected, it is all about Cyprus this morning, and overnight, and just as naturally it wouldn't be a centrally-planned market without the generic BTFD overnight ramp attempt, which we got from the EURUSD, as the pair rose from sub 1.29 to 1.2973, which also pushed the US futures up to nearly fill half the overnight gap lower. Citi explained this, observing the "EUR/USD squeezed higher on reports Cyprus bailout terms may be eased, CitiFX Wire says", but it did add that "selling was likely to materialize; flow has 60% bias in favor of downside, Seeing heavy net selling, mainly from leveraged funds." Naturally, the market does what it does best - clutches at straws, although not even this centrally-planned market could ignore news that today's Cyprus parliament vote has been cancelled, that banks will likely remain closed tomorrow, and that a vote may not happen until Friday, which likely means the bank holiday is about to stretch to one week, and possibly much longer as Cyprus is terrified to open its banks to the fury of scrambling "bank-runners." Things started to get interesting following another RIA report citing finance minister Siluanov, that Russia may reconsider its role in the Cyprus rescue following the bank tax. Siluanov added that bank tax breaks the plan for joint steps on Cyprus and that the decision was made without Russia.
Today's stunning comeback by Berlusconi, which is really a slide in support for Bersani and Monti whose joint coalition government is unlikely to have the 158 seats needed in the Senate to avoid elections in a few months, means the "Plan B" aka "worst" outcome is in play. How "worst"? In a note released over the weekend, JPM strategist Gianluca Salford attributed a tiny 15-20% probability to an outcome that now appears to be the base case. A far more likely result (defined by JPM as 75%) would have been a continuation of the status quo, which saw an easily-formed Center Left government. As of this moment, that no longer appears feasible. So as the next steps play out, the fulcrum security will be Italian BTPs, which according to JPM will be whacked to the tune of 40 to 100 bps (at least to start), and with deleveraging feedback loops picking up after, who knows where this will end, especially in a worst-er case scenario where there will be months of political and social uncertainty in Italy.
While the topic of net Fed capital flows, and implicit balance sheet risk has recently gotten substantial prominence some three years after Zero Hedge first started discussing it, one open question is what happens when we cross the "D-Rate" boundary, or as we defined it, the point at which the Fed's Net Interest Margin becomes negative i.e., when the outflows due to interest payable to reserve banks (from IOER) surpasses the cash inflows from the Fed's low-yielding asset portfolio, and when the remittances to the Treasury cease (or technically become negative). To get the full answer of what happens then, we once again refer readers to the paper released yesterday by Morgan Stanley's Greenlaw and Deutsche Bank's Hooper, which discusses not only the parabolic chart that US debt yield will certainly follow over the next several decades, but the trickier concept known as the Fed's technical insolvency, or that moment when the Fed's tiny capital buffer goes negative. In short what would happen is that the Fed will be then forced to print money just so it can continue to print money.
One-stop summary of the key events and issues in the week ahead.
Moody's has stepped forward with the first warning shot across the bow that:
- *MOODY'S: MORE MEDIUM TERM ACTIONS MAY BE NEEDED TO SUPPORT Aaa
Has contradicted itself (from September) on the debt-ceiling breach; and warns that while the deal 'mitigates' some fiscal drag, it does not remove it. To wit: the IMF piles on:
- *IMF SAYS `MORE REMAINS TO BE DONE' ON U.S. PUBLIC FINANCES
- *IMF SAYS U.S. DEBT CEILING SHOULD BE RAISED `EXPEDITIOUSLY'
Full statements below.
This EU juggler simply has too many balls in the air...
Obama has been reelected, the Senate remains in the hands of the democrats, while Congress is controlled by the GOP. Most importantly, the printer is firmly in the hands of Ben Bernanke. In other words, nothing has changed, as was largely expected all along. The worst case scenario - a protracted litigation, challenging the results of the election - has been avoided after Mitt Romney contested shortly before midnight, and as a result the immediate downward gap in risk following the election has been largely recouped overnight. More importantly, '4 more years' of the same monetary policy and no end to currency dilution have resulted in a nearly $50 jump in gold overnight with the metal in the $1720s this morning, because while the Fiscal Cliff remains hopelessly unresolved, and the baseline scenario that the market will need to tumble to shock politicians into waking up, remains (as does Goldman's 1250 year end S&P price target), the reality is that no matter what happens, Bernanke and crew will print and monetize the coming deluge of debt (which would also have been the case if Romney had won). And with total debt set to rise to $22+ trillion over the next 4 years, a deluge it will be. Most importantly, with Obama reelected, Europe is now "off the hook" and can finally rock the boat, which means Greece can take its rightful place at the front of the domino chain. Remember: the latest Greek austerity vote is today and voting (i.e. debating) has begun, and with vote results expected later today. It also means that the military festivities in the middle east, where the US now has 2 aircraft carriers and 2 marine assault groups, can resume.