Yesterday we noted the fact that China's Shanghai Composite was now red for 2013 as inflationary fears once again raise the odd specter of a central bank suggesting less than orgasmic expansion of its free money. While the 'Pisani's of the world see the relative outperformance as some 'rotation' in the smart money, we humbly suggest he take a trip down memory lane and note how rapidly the so-called 'smart money' reverted to China's lead in the last few years as the lack of an inflation shock absorber led the PBoC to pull back and implicitly drag on the world's equity market-based linearly-extrapolated economic growth hopes. As a reminder, it's never different this time.
Our last discussion of the miracle of earnings expectations focused on the bottom-up hockey-stick that it seems the consensus believes is ahead (always out there in the future). Today's 'factual' and 'empirical' whiteboard lecture on the 'miracle' comes courtesy of CNBC's Rick Santelli, who appears as frustrated at his co-correspondents permabullishness (see Liesman's flip-flopping views on retail sales today) as the implicit disconnect between the market and fundamentals. To wit, the fact that expectations for GDP growth and earnings are so divergent. With earnings growth expected to be +14.7% this year and nominal GDP around +3-4%, Santelli asks his guest where nominal GDP 'normally' is for such strong earnings expectations - the answer 7.6% nominal GDP growth... reality discussion ensues...
The American spirit is rooted in the belief of a better tomorrow. Its success has been due to generations of men and women who toiled, through both hardship and boom times, to make that dream a reality. But at some point over the past several decades, that hope for a better tomorrow became an expectation. Or perhaps a perceived entitlement is more accurate. It became assumed that the future would be more prosperous than today, irrespective of the actual steps being taken in the here and now. And for a prolonged time – characterized by plentiful and cheap energy, accelerating globalization, technical innovation, and the financialization of the economy – it seemed like this assumption was a certain bet. But these wonderful tailwinds that America has been enjoying for so many decades are sputtering out. The forces of resource scarcity, debt saturation, price inflation, and physical limits will impact our way of life dramatically more going forward than living generations have experienced to date. And Americans, who had the luxury of abandoning savings and sacrifice for consumerism and credit financing, are on a collision course with that reality.
Washington is laying on the malaise pretty thick lately over automatic budget cuts set to take effect in March, with admonitions and partisan attacks galore. Of course, those of us who are educated in the finer points of our corrupt puppet government are well aware that the public debate between Democrats and Republicans amounts to nothing more than a farcical battle of Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots with only one set of hands behind the controls. The reality is, their decisions are scripted, their votes are purchased, and they knew months ago exactly how America’s fiscal cliff situation would progress. The drama that now ensues on the hill is meant for OUR benefit and distraction, and no one else. There are plenty of irrelevant federal appendages out there that could be amputated, but probably won’t be, while other more useful programs will come under fire. In the end, the budget cuts are not about saving money; they are about social maneuvering and political gain. They will be used as an excuse for everything, and will produce nothing favorable, not because cuts are not needed, but because the people in charge of them are not trustworthy.
If we can't even cut federal spending by 2.4 percent without much of the country throwing an absolute hissy fit, then what hope does America have? All of this whining and crying about the sequester is absolutely disgraceful. The truth is that even if the sequester goes into effect, the U.S. government will still take in more money than ever before in 2013 and it will still spend more money than ever before in 2013. So it is a bit disingenuous to call what is about to happen "a spending cut", but for the sake of argument let's concede that point. If this is how bad things are now, how bad will they be when a day of reckoning for our economy arrives? And a day of reckoning is coming. Our politicians can try to keep kicking the can down the road for as long as they can, but eventually time will run out. We can borrow our way to prosperity for a while, but in the end there is always a very bitter price to pay for doing so. I would love to tell you that there is a chance that all of this will be turned around, but the truth is that all of this whining and crying about the sequester shows that America is doomed.
Money is not like a commodity; there is no end to it. You don’t have to grow it, find it in the ground, drill for it or plant it in the spring. It is not even that the supply of lumber will curtail the paper for most of it is not printed at all. Made from nothing, recorded on a spreadsheet, sent out across the wires, a digital divinity of man’s own creation. It is a world that none have seen before. It is not Huxley’s “Brave New World” but something far stranger; a financial system cobbled together in counting houses and made from nothing but air. In the last days Bernanke promised that the feeding would continue, Draghi promised a food laden table without end and the Band of Merry Men rejoiced and the gauge of their elevated mood, the markets, responded accordingly and the party continued.
What could go wrong with the housing 'recovery' in 2013? To answer this question, we need to understand that housing is the key component a middle class squeezed by historically high debt loads, stagnant incomes, and a net worth largely dependent on their home. In response, Central Planners have pulled out all the stops to reflate housing as the only available means to spark a broad-based “wealth effect” that would support higher spending and an expansion of household debt. This returns us to the key question: Are all these Central Planning interventions sustainable, or might they falter in 2013? Once markets become dependent on intervention and support to price risk and assets, they are intrinsically vulnerable to any reduction in that support. Should these supports diminish or lose their effectiveness, it will be sink-or-swim for housing. Either organic demand rises without subsidies and lenders originate mortgages without agency guarantees, or the market could resume the fall in valuations Central Planning halted in 2009.
Whenever I endeavor to explain America’s current economic situation to a person who likely receives most of his information from skewed mainstream news sources, I try to use two comparisons; the Great Depression, and Weimar Germany, because what we are experiencing is actually a combination of elements from both events. In the end, the madness of debt spending is going to annihilate this country anyway. Fiat printing and infinite QE will eventually result in the dumping of our currency as the world reserve, causing devaluation and hyperstagflation. Stimulus and the monetization of government liabilities are crippling us. The problem is, this nation is irrevocably dependent on such measures. Cuts will result in almost similar catastrophe, but on a faster time frame and perhaps a slightly shorter duration (depending on who runs the show in the aftermath). I’ve been saying it since 2008 – there is no easy way out of this situation. There is no silver bullet solution. There will be struggle, and there will be consequence. It is unavoidable. All we have to decide now is how we will respond when the inevitable disaster comes.
I really need to stop being so pessimistic. I’m getting richer by the day. My home value is rising at a rate of 1% per month according to the National Association of Realtors. At that rate, my house will be worth $1 million in less than 10 years. Every mainstream media newspaper, magazine, and news channel is telling me the “strong” housing recovery is propelling the economy and creating millions of new jobs. Keynesian economists, Wall Street bankers, government apparatchiks and housing trade organizations are all in agreement that the wealth effect from rising home prices will be the jumpstart our economy needs to get back to the glory days of 2005. Who am I to argue with such honorable men with degrees from Ivy League schools and a track record of unquestioned accuracy as we can see in the chart below? These are the facts. But why trust facts when you can believe Baghdad Ben and the NAR? It’s always the best time to buy.
While the rest of the world was blissfully enjoying its latest reflation experiment, one country that has hardly been quite as ecstatic about all the blistering free money entering its real estate market (if not so much the Shanghai Composite) still warm off the presses of the G-7 central banks, has been China. Because China knows very well that while in the rest of the world, free money enters the stock market first and lingers there, in China the line between the reflating house market and the price of hogs - that all critical commodity needed to preserve social stability - is very thin. As a result, last week China withdrew a record CNY900 billion out of the repo market - the first such liquidity pull in eight months. This move had one purpose only - to telegraph to the rest of the world that the nation, whose central bank has patiently stayed quiet during the recent balance sheet expansion euphoria, will no longer sit idly by as hot money lift every real estate offer in China. Moments ago we got the second sign that China is less than happy with the reflating status quo, when the HSBC Flash PMI index for February missed expectations of a 52.2 print by a big margin, instead dropping from the final January print of 52.3 to just barely above contraction territory, or 50.4. This was the lowest print in the past four months, or just when the PMI data turned from contracting to expanding in November of last year.
Stanley Druckenmiller: "We Have An Entitlement Problem" And One Day The Fed's Hamster Wheel Will StopSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/21/2013 19:04 -0400
Two and a half years ago, George Soros' former partner Stanley Druckenmiller closed shop when he shut down his iconic Duquesne Management, after generating 30% average annual returns since 1986. Some time later he raised many red flags by being one of the first "establishment" types to expose the Fed's take over of the market when he said in a rare May 2011 interview that "It's not a free market. It's not a clean market.... The market isn't saying anything about the future. It's saying there's a phony buyer of $19 billion of Treasurys a week." This was in the context of the constantly declining interest rates on an ever exploding US debt load. And while back then total debt was a "manageable" $14.3 trillion, as of today it is some $2.3 trillion higher moments ago printing at a fresh record high of $16.6 trillion, not surprisingly the phony buyer is still here only now he is buying not $19 billion by over $20 billion in total debt each week. But just like it was the relentless rise in the US debt that forced him out of his privacy in the public scene back then, so it was also the US debt that was also the topic of his rare CNBC appearance today (where he fiercely poked at all those other TV chatterbox pundits when he said "money managers should manage money and not go on shows like this") in the aftermath of his recent WSJ Op-Ed. There, he once again said what everyone knows but is scared to admit: "we have an entitlement problem."
Several days ago we wrote about what we defined as the Fed's "D-Rate" - the interest rate at which the cash outflows from payments by the Fed on its Excess Reserves will surpass that cash inflows from its asset holdings, a very troubling day because as we further explained, from that point on the Fed would be "printing money just to print money." In other words, with every passing day, the Fed is getting ever closer to the point where the inflation it so very much wishes to unleash will force it to essentially request a technical bailout from Congress (and certainly will halt all future interest remittances to the Treasury), and the longer this takes, the lower the breakeven interest rate becomes, until one day it is so low the tiniest rise in rates will immediately put the Fed into the red. It now appears that Congress itself, the ultimate beneficiary of the Fed's free money policy as nearly half of all US spending is funded by the Fed's monetization of the deficit at ultra low rates, is finally catching on to what is the ultimate rock and hard place for Ben Bernanke. In a letter penned by the Chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, Jim Jordan, says that he is "troubled by the corresponding effect that the Federal Reserve's expanding portfolio could have on current and future economic growth" and has asked the Fed what its "future plans to unwind the [$3 trillion and rising at $885 billion per month] portfolio" are.
We have noted the incessant slamdown in the precious metals markets, and highlighted that the only thing that can slow the flood of liquidity into each and every market is a rise in energy prices. The former represents 'trust' in the system; the latter represents 'real economics' as it squeezes the global economy forcing the central banks to pull back or tighten (see China's lack of rev repo recently). To wit, we just noted the plunge in WTI this morning; but Nanex, given their depth of data, noticed something considerably more concerning... "Because the circuit breaker tripped after the market had somewhat stabilized, we think another large sale appeared that would have decimated prices - which CME's circuit breaker logic picked up on, causing the halt." Did someone intentionally try to crash the WTI Crude contract? And if so, who? We don't know, but the usual suspect (singular) does emerge, considering that with gas prices hitting new February daily record every day, and every dollar in increase in WTI means even less (seasonally adjusted) GDP, and less consumer purchasing power, those evil speculators who are taking the Fed's free money to buy commodities (and very unpatriotically not the S&P or Russell 2000) must be promptly punished.
The big story this past week, besides the annual State of the Delusion speech by Barack “It won’t add a cent to the deficit” Obama, was the fate of the passengers on the Carnival Triumph as their skyscraper sized ship was left adrift at sea for days without power. The ordeal at sea of the Carnival Triumph and the leadership displayed by the Carnival management and executive officers is a microcosm of our declining empire. Rather than deal with our reality, Obama chose the Carnival Cruise Line method of public relations - misinformation, denial and delusion. He has embraced the Big Lie concept as if he had created it. Our cruise of illusions and delusions is headed for troubled water. The math challenged citizens on this ship have been enjoying the 24 hour pizza buffet without the labor required to pay for the bounty. This voyage is reaching an end and the bill is coming due. The engine is on fire but the captain is telling us all is well. Eventually, everyone will know the captain lied.
James Howard Kunstler is concerned. But beyond our decaying fundamentals, he's distressed by society's unwillingness to be honest with itself about the issue's it's facing. Instead, we are embracing a narrative based in "magical thinking" (e.g., prosperity through the printing press, energy independence through domestic shale) that assures us everything is fine. "It’s characteristic of the time that we’re living in that there simply is no sense of consequence. And that’s exactly what you get when you have a Federal Reserve that’s out of control and a public that is filled with technological narcissistic visions of Santa Claus delivering rescue remedies on demand. And so there’s no general sense that when you do things, bad things can happen."