This chart seems to sum up our fiscal challenges as well as anything else...
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. It’s a mammoth of a reform bill and runs 844 pages (plus 350 pages of annexes). A needed overhaul of the 1986 law, but it will have its downsides too.
Japanese finances are in a shambles and very soon investors are going to run screaming from the Yen and JGB markets.
Moments ago, Syria relented to the main gating condition that would prevent an all out escalation, and as Russia urged it to, has permitted an inspection of last Wednesday's alleged chemical weapons attack by UN inspectors. The WSJ reports that "Syria would allow United Nations inspectors currently present in Damascus immediate access to areas around the capital where the opposition accused the regime of using chemical weapons against fighters and civilians five days ago. A presenter on Syrian state television reading a statement attributed to an unnamed official at the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the agreement was reached after a meeting between Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Angela Kane, the U.N. disarmament chief, who arrived in Damascus on Saturday." Of course, since demand for said inspection was just a strawman as the last time the UN inspected a "certain" chemical weapons attack by Assad it found "rebels may have used sarin" instead, and the US was absolutely certain Syria would not relent to an inspection thus allowing a full scale military attack, the US is now downplaying compliance with this key demand, by saying it is too little too late.
The 10Y Treasury yield has jumped nearly 130bp from its low point in early May. Given the tight ranges and low volatility of yields during the most of QE era, this kind of move in just over 3 months seemed stunning to some investors. Consequently, the question that has come up often recently is: what has been driving Treasury yields? As UBS' Boris Rjavinski notes, several years ago a rate strategist would give you a straightforward and predictable answer: inflationary expectations, economic growth projections, and current and future monetary policy. But now, as Rjavinksi notes, central banks and politics in the driver seat. Volatility will remain elevated as we await key messages from the Fed in September, and U.S. political calendar will start to heat up as we approach the “drop-dead” dates to fund the government and extent the dent ceiling.
Following yet another rout in Asia overnight, which since shifted over to Europe, US equity futures have stabilized as a result of a modest buying/short-covering spree in the 10 Year which after threatening to blow out in the 2.90% range and above, instead fell back to 2.81%. Yet algos appear confused by the seeming USD weakness in the past few hours (EURUSD just briefly rose over 1.34) and instead of ploughing head first into stock futures have only modestly bid them up and are keeping the DJIA futs just above the sacred to the vacuum tube world 15,000 mark. A lower USDJPY (heavily correlated to the ES) did not help, after it was pushed south by more comments out of Japan that a sales tax hike is inevitable which then also means a lower budget deficit, less monetization, less Japanese QE and all the other waterfall effect the US Fed is slogging through. Keep an eye on the 10 Year and on the USD: which signal wins out will determine whether equities rise or fall, and with speculation about what tomorrow's minutes bring rife, it is anybody's bet whether we get the 10th red close out of 12 in the S&P500.
As is well-known by now, one of the main reasons why the Fed's hands are tied when it comes to the future of QE, is the dramatic drop in the US budget deficit which cuts down on the amount of monetizable gross issuance (read Treasurys) and for which a big reason is that the GSEs have shifted from net uses of government cash to net sources. So in what may be the best news for Bernanke, and/or his successor, we learn that according to a report written by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) inspector general and reviewed by Reuters, "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are masking billions of dollars losses because of the level of delinquent home loans they carry."
The Wall Street Journal recently ran a front-page article reporting that the monetary-policy “doves,” who had forecast low inflation in the United States, have gotten the better of the “hawks,” who argued that the Fed’s monthly purchases of long-term securities, or so-called quantitative easing (QE), would unleash faster price growth. The report was correct but misleading, for it failed to mention why there is so little inflation in the US today. Those who believe that inflation will remain low should look more thoroughly and think more clearly. There are plenty of good textbooks that explain what too many policymakers and financial-market participants would rather forget.
With all of the problems afflicting the world economy nowadays, inflation seems to be the least of our worries. In addressing the post-2008 economic malaise, which stems from over-indebtedness, policymakers are correct to focus on the threat of debt deflation, which can lead to depression. But dismissing inflation as “yesterday’s problem” could undermine central banks’ efforts to address today’s most pressing issues – and, ultimately, facilitate inflation’s resurgence. Understanding how the Great Inflation from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s was tamed offers important lessons for addressing far-reaching economic problems, however different ours may be, and provides insight into the dangers that may lie ahead.
President Obama recently stopped in Phoenix to deliver his latest diatribe on how he is going to fix the economy. Yes, that is correct, another round of "campaign speeches" that, as has been the hallmark of this Administration to date, have generally wound up mired in an abyss of a broken congressional system. What really struck me, however, was his comprehensive plan designed to further boost the housing market. Another housing bailout program is the last thing we need. It's time to stop trying to fix what is broken by trying to cure the symptoms rather than the disease.
Confidence leads to spending; spending strengthens the economy; and economic strength buttresses confidence. It’s a circular, self-fulfilling prophesy. Confidence can also fuel market movements. Belief that the price of an asset will rise causes people to buy the asset... making its price rise. This is another way in which confidence is self-fulfilling. But, of course, as Oak Tree Capital's Howard Marks points out, the confidence that underlies economic gains and price increases only has an impact as long as it exists. Once it dies, its effect turns out to be far from permanent. As the economist Herb Stein said, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." This is certainly true for confidence and its influence. As far as confidence today, Marks notes significant uncertainty is one of the outstanding characteristics of today’s investing environment. It discourages optimism regarding the future and limits investors’ certainty that the future is knowable and controllable. In other words, it saps confidence. This is a major difference from conditions in the pre-crisis years. In fact, Marks warns he doesn't remember when his list of 'uncertainties' was this long...
A week that has been all about acronyms - GDP, PMIs, FOMC, ECB, BOE, ADP, ISM, DOL, the now daily record highs in the S&P and DJIA - is about to get its final and most important one: the NFP from the BLS, and specifically an expectation of a July 185K print, down from the 195K in the June, as well as an unemployment rate of 7.5% down from 7.6%. The number itself is irrelevant: anything 230 and above will be definitive proof Bernanke's policies are working, that the virtuous circle has begun and that one can rotate out of everything and into stocks; anything 150 or below will be definitive proof the Fed will be here to stay for a long time, that Bernanke and his successor will monetize everything in sight, and that one can rotate out of everything and into stocks, which by now are so disconnected from any underlying reality, one really only mentions the newsflow in passing as the upward record momentum in risk no longer reflects pretty much anything.
With all eyes fixed on GDP and unemployment data this week (and all their revised and propagandized unreality) for more hints at if (not when) the Fed will Taper; the dismal reality that few seem willing to admit is that it is when (not if) and that the announcement of a "Taper" has nothing to do with the economy. There are three key factors driving this decision: Bernanke's bubble-blowing and bond-market-breaking legacy, the political 'clean slate' his successor needs, and, most importantly, the fear that QE will be discovered for what it is - monetization. As BoJ's Kuroda admitted last night "if QE is seen as financing debt, this could lead to rise in yields." With deficits falling, the Fed's real actions will be exposed (unless QE is tapered) and as Kyle Bass has explained before, it was out of the hands of the BOJ (or The Fed) and entirely up to market psychology.
Anyone that thinks that the U.S. economy can keep going along like this is delusional. We are in the terminal phase of an unprecedented debt spiral which has allowed us to live far, far beyond our means for the last several decades. Unfortunately, all debt spirals eventually end, and they usually do so in a very disorderly manner.