When real estate prices made a vertiginous ascent in the 1980s Japan the bullish refrain was that there wasn’t enough land. However, Japanese real estate prices, and even those of crowded Tokyo, have glided downwards over the subsequent two decades, accompanied by rents - interrupted by the Karate-Kid-esque 'recovery-on; recovery-off' hope that we have also started to witness in the US. Very low economic growth and a demographic headwind, despite reasonably high employment, have led to a depressed real estate market. Is this a harbinger for the West? And what defines recovery - price, volume, net equity?
Over the past several years, there has been much speculation and numerous reports that America is deleveraging. It isn't. In fact, consolidated across the 5 different kinds of American debt, which takes into account not only federal, but also financial, municipal, household and non-financial, total debt as a percentage of GDP has not budged over the past 4 years and is flat at 350% of GDP. Which simply means that all of the household debt that has supposedly vaporized (at least until the next major Flow of Funds revision), all of which has taken place purely from discharges on uncollectable mortgage and credit card debt, has been replaced by federal debt, while financial debt has merely soared to take the place of the collapsing shadow debt which is imploding as the confidence in a Fed-free financial system erodes to zero. Which of course, is the worst possible outcome: instead of funding private, individual entrepreneurs, who are the true basis for America's historic growth, prosperity and success (and who, unlike the government can and will fail if they dont allocated capital efficiently) the transferred debt (from household to federal) merely goes to fund the unproductive components of the US economy: the US government which by definition produces nothing, and the financial sector, whose only product is financial innovation which serves to make the TBTFs TBTFer, and pay record bonus after record bonus, and... that's it.
The US is clearly heading into another recession in the context of a larger depression. And it’s doing this while in the worst economic shape in its post-WWII history. We’ve never once entered a recession when the average duration of unemployment is at an all time high, industrial production has failed to break above its previous peak, and food stamp usage is at a record high. We’ve never done this.
Organic growth is slow and painful (Boo!), central bank money fast, cheap and with few strings attached (Yes!)…And anyway, QE and other supports have already been priced in… Can’t change the programme.
What do the following have in common? LIBOR, Bernie Madoff, MF Global, Peregrine Financial, zero-percent interest rates, the Social Security and Medicare entitlement funds, many state and municipal pension funds, mark-to-model asset values, quote stuffing and high frequency trading (HFT), and debt-based money? The answer is that every single thing in that list is an example of market rigging, fraud, or both. How are we supposed to make decisions in today’s rigged and often fraudulent market environment? Where should you put your money if you don’t know where the risks lie? How does one control risk when control fraud runs rampant? Unfortunately, there are no perfect answers to these questions. Instead, the task is to recognize what sort of world we happen to live in today and adjust one’s actions to the realities as they happen to be. The purpose of this report is not to stir up resentment or anger -- although those are perfectly valid responses to the abuses we are forced to live with -- but to simply acknowledge the landscape as it is so that we can make informed decisions.
The World Gold Council released its quarterly report today, Q2 2012 Gold Demand Trends Report and can be read in full on the World Gold Council website here. Accumulation of gold bullion from central banks was the bright spot in demand last quarter, as total demand fell 7% globally, which was driven by a 38% fall in consumer demand from India. Price sensitive Indians have been shunning gold and many have been opting for far cheaper poor man’s gold – silver. Jewellery and investment demand both fell. Jewellery consumption was down 72.3 tonnes at 418.3 tonnes, while investment fell 88.3 tonnes to 302 tonnes. The report shows how while record levels of demand from western markets, China and particularly India have been followed by a decline – the seismic shift that is central banks going from being bet sellers to net buyers has provided a new fundamental pillar of support for the gold market. Physical demand slowed down in western markets and especially in India in recent months but large buyers continue to accumulate - both hedge funds and central banks and this is providing fundamental support to gold above the $1500 to $1,600/oz level. 2Q total central bank gold purchases were double the level reported a year ago as emerging market sovereign nations sought to diversify away from the dollar and euro and heightened economic insecurity. Gold purchases among central banks hit its highest quarterly levels (157.5 metric tons) since the sector became a net buyer of the yellow metal in 2Q 2009.
Think the US has it bad with its "soaring" gas price, which is now back to $3.75 per gallon? Think again. Here, courtesy of Bloomberg, is a list of the countries whose gasoline cost puts what Americans pay at the pump to shame. In order of descending gas prices, below are the 20 places in the world where one does not want to "fill 'er up."
When one thinks US Treasurys, and demand thereof, two entities pop into mind: the Federal Reserve, which over the past 3 years has been the biggest institutional buyer of US paper, and China, which is the largest foreign holder of US TSYs. Yet over the past year something curious happened: when it comes to setting marginal demand for US Treasurys, it was neither the Fed, whose sterilized Operation Twist has kept its holdings of US Tsys relatively flat, nor China, which has actually been a major seller of US paper, that has been the dominant source of marginal demand for Uncle Sam's never to be repaid obligations. Japan.
It is important to consider how beneficial a debt reset — so long as society comes out of it in one piece — will be in the long run. As both Friedrich Hayek and Hyman Minsky saw it, with the weight of excessive debt and the costs of deleveraging either reduced or removed, long-depressed-economies would be able to grow organically again. This is obviously not ideal, but it is surely better than remaining in a Japanese-style deleveraging trap. Yet while most of the economic establishment remain convinced that the real problem is one of aggregate demand, and not excessive total debt, such a prospect still remains distant. The most likely pathway continues to be one of stagnation, with central banks printing just enough money to keep the debt serviceable (and handing it to the financial sector, which will surely continue to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else). This is a painful and unsustainable status quo and the debt reset — and without an economic miracle, it will eventually arrive — will in the long run likely prove a welcome development for the vast majority of people and businesses.
It is just getting stupid. Europe officially enters recession, Japan GDP declines nominally, China admits to food inflation which locks the PBOC out of easing for months, UK inflation is again rising faster than expected which will soon force the BOE to reevaluate its latest easing episode, Brent is once again rising on supply fears and middle east war fears to a 3 month high, corporate revenues have never been worse in this recession cycle and what happens? Futures spike following a very visible invisible finger pushing ES higher by 0.5% at 9 pm Eastern and setting the scene for trading throughout the night. And since the market has reverted back to full retard mode full of hope of an absolution from the Fed, this time at the August 31 Jackson Hole meeting, which will be very disappointing as Ben will say absolutely nothing yet again, why not take the S&P to new 2012 highs? After all well over 100% of QE3 is now priced in. Finally, expect the ES to surge by 10 points should advance retail sales miss wildly the consensus of a +0.3% print. After all, inverted is the NKI.
Can anyone seriously claim the European Union, the European Central Bank and its alphabet-soup programs still retain a shred of credibility? Every EU/ECB "save" is fictitious, every "fix" expedient, every promise empty, every face-saving summit a living lie. Ultimately, all the posturing, promises and saves come down to an impossibility: "rescuing" phantom assets purchased with astounding levels of debt by issuing even more astounding levels of debt. Does anyone truly believe this absurdity is anything more than a transparent fraud designed to extend the life of a failed, corrupt system constructed on fantasies and lies? Those with assets are fleeing for less fantastic and dangerous climes. The handful of French millionaires who are supposed to magically bail out a failed-state that absorbs 55% of GDP are busy transferring their assets out of France, a mass exodus of capital that is also playing out in China, where those who embraced the slogan "to get rich is glorious" are transferring their wealth, ill-gotten or well-earned, overseas. So vast is this outflow of wealth that for the first time the outflow of capital from China exceeds the inflow of investment capital. The smart money is exiting, and the last batch of credulous "China story" rubes are dumping their capital down a rathole.
Two years in and they are only starting now? What took them so long. Also, absolutely nothing new here, but merely the latest attempt to shift public opinion and EUR viability perceptions ever so slightly by one of Germany's most respect magazines. Those whose agenda it is to spook Germany with images of fire, brimstone, and 3-page mutual assured destruction termsheets if the Euro implodes, are now free to take the podium. One wonders: if it wasn't for the inevitable collapse of the EUR.... the inevitable collapse of the EUR.... the inevitable collapse of the EUR.... the inevitable collapse of the EUR, and of course Paul Ryan, would there be absolutely no news today?
It is important to note that markets were also unusually calm during the two weeks of the Chinese Olympics in 2008. The 2008 Summer Olympic Games took place slightly later in August than the London Olympics – starting August 8 and ending August 24. Only days after the ending of the Chinese Olympics came massive market volatility in September and then seven months of market turmoil. Similarly to this Olympic year, in Olympic year 2008, gold traded sideways to down in a period of consolidation prior to further gains. Gold bottomed in September 2008 in euro and sterling terms. Another brief bout of dollar strength saw gold bottom in November 2008 in dollar terms. Besides the eurozone crisis (and the significant risk of the German Constitutional Court deciding on September 12th to reject the recently cobbled together alphabet soup response to the crisis (ESM etc etc) and significant instability in the Middle East, there is also the not inconsequential risk from the US Presidential campaign and the upcoming ‘fiscal cliff’.
Last week was a scratch in terms of events, if not in terms of multiple expansion, as 2012 forward EPS continued contraction even as the market continued rising and is on the verge of taking out 2012 highs - surely an immediate catalyst for the New QE it is pricing in. This week promises to be just as boring with few events on the global docket as Europe continues to bask in mid-August vacation, and prepare for the September event crunch. Via DB, In Europe, apart from GDP tomorrow we will also get inflation data from the UK, Spain and France as well as the German ZEW survey. Greece will also auction EU3.125bn in 12-week T-bills to help repay a EU3.2bn bond due 20 August held by the ECB. Elsewhere will get Spanish trade balance and euroland inflation data on Thursday, German PPI and the Euroland trade balance on Friday. In the US we will get PPI, retail sales and business inventories tomorrow. On Wednesday we get US CPI, industrial production, NY Fed manufacturing, and the NAHB housing index. Building permits/Housing starts and Philly Fed survey are the highlights for Thursday before the preliminary UofM consumer sentiment survey on Friday.