Nearly two decades of central bank financial repression have created huge distortions and imbalances in the world economy. Now they are coming home to roost as the impossibility of ZIRP forever dawns on even our mad money printers. Having created yet another round of ebullient financial bubbles, they are now getting palpably nervous.
What is really embodied in today’s report is more evidence that America’s dependency ratio is still rising and that the already crushing burden of the welfare state will weigh ever more heavily on an economy that is visibly failing as measured by any of the fundamental trends of performance. Indeed, it is well to recall that even today—after what the clueless occupant of the White House claims as 10 million new jobs when 90% of that number, in fact, represents “born again” jobs relative to the 2007 peak—-there are 110 million Americans living in households receiving means-tested benefits and 158 million in households that receive transfer payments of all types. Yet as the burden of taxation and public debt resulting from these trends weigh ever more heavily, it leaves the mad money printers resident in the Eccles Building stranded in an impossible corner.
Janet Yellen is a chatterbox of numbers, but most of them are “noise”. And that’s her term. Yet here is a profoundly important set of numbers that you haven’t heard boo about from Yellen and her mad money printers. To wit, during the “difficult” economic times since the financial crisis began gathering force in Q1 2008, the S&P 500 companies have distributed $3.8 trillion in stock buybacks and dividends out of just $4 trillion in cumulative net income. That’s right, 95 cents of every dollar they earned - including the huge gains from restructurings, downsizings and job terminations - was flushed right back into the Wall Street casino.
The Great Depression did not represent the failure of capitalism or some inherent suicidal tendency of the free market to plunge into cyclical depression - absent the constant ministrations of the state through monetary, fiscal, tax and regulatory interventions. Instead, the Great Depression was a unique historical occurrence - the delayed consequence of the monumental folly of the Great War, abetted by the financial deformations spawned by modern central banking. But ironically, the “failure of capitalism” explanation of the Great Depression is exactly what enabled the Warfare State to thrive and dominate the rest of the 20th century because it gave birth to what have become its twin handmaidens - Keynesian economics and monetary central planning. Together, these two doctrines eroded and eventually destroyed the great policy barrier - that is, the old-time religion of balanced budgets - that had kept America a relatively peaceful Republic until 1914. The good Ben (Franklin that is) said,” Sir you have a Republic if you can keep it”. We apparently haven’t.
The economic releases of the past few days are putting the lie to the Keynesian escape velocity myth. The latter is not just around the corner—-and 2014 is now virtually certain to mark the fifth year running when the boom predicted by Wall Street economist at the beginning of the year fizzled as actual results unfolded.
According to the latest Nielsen Media Research data, in the second quarter of 2014, CNBC viewership for all viewers just dropped to 162,000 - a new (and depressing for Comcast) low, on par with CNBC's viewership from Q2 of 1997! Where things get funny is when one looks at the ratings of that consummate entertainer, that self-appointed "voice of the people", Jim Cramer. Sadly for Cramer, the people are now gone. Because also according to Nielsen Jim Cramer's Mad Money show just had its lowest ever rated month in the 25-54 demo, and is about to have its second lowest rated month ever across total viewers.
"They know nothing..." - grab your popcorn and settle in for the clash of the titans as the Cramer-Geithner lovefest explodes on to your screen... the question is will we see:
Cramer 2008 "if Geithner is installed as the next Treasury Secretary then we are done, kaput, finished... we are completely and royally hosed as a nation" or
Cramer 2012 "Geithner is one of the greatest Treasury Secretaries ever."
The world’s official economic institutions are run by people who believe in monetary fairy tales. The 70 words of wisdom below from IMF head Christine Lagarde are par for the course. She asserts that a new jabberwocky expression called “low-flation” is the main obstacle to higher economic growth in Europe and the DM areas generally and that it can be cured by more central bank money printing.
As the day began with every Joe, Jim, and Harry claiming to be an expert in HFT and having prophesied all of this long ago, we thought it would be intriguing to track just how well the retail investor was edumacated on the 'rigging of markets'. It didn't take long before Bob "I'm not trying to be an apologist for HFT, but..." Pisani explained that investors should not be concerned and another talking-head popped up on CNBC to proclaim, "being a little bit front-run is not a problem... remember, it's legal." Henry Blodgett made his 'takes one to know one' bubble perspective adding confidently that "the concept that the market is rigged is crazy." Crazy indeed - until the FBI gets involved. But we leave it to Rick Santelli who summed it all delightfully in a death-match with Pisani, "I'm sorry but if a large group of people can take that one cent all day long, day-in and day-out, then there's a problem."
One of the evils of massive over-financialization is that it enables Wall Street to scalp vast “rents” from the Main Street economy. These zero sum extractions not only bloat the paper wealth of the 1% but also fund a parasitic bubble finance infrastructure that would largely not exist in a world of free market finance and honest money. The infrastructure of bubble finance can be likened to the illegal drug cartels. In that dystopic world, the immense revenue “surplus” from the 1000-fold elevation of drug prices owing to government enforced scarcity finances a giant but uneconomic apparatus of sourcing, transportation, wholesaling, distribution, corruption, coercion, murder and mayhem that would not even exist in a free market. The latter would only need LTL trucking lines and $900 vending machines. In this context, the sprawling empire known as Bloomberg LP is the Juarez Cartel of bubble finance.
If you are not Professor Paul Krugman you probably agree that Washington has left no stone unturned on the Keynesian stimulus front since the crisis of September 2008. By the time the “taper” is over later this year (?) the Fed’s balance sheet will exceed $4.7 trillion - $4 trillion in new central bank liabilities in six years. All conjured out of thin air. Professor Krugman proposing to “do something”... In short, Krugman wants to double-down on the lunacy we have already accomplished. Unfortunately, we are presently nigh onto “peak debt”; there is no “escape velocity” because the Fed’s credit channel is broken and done. Going forward, the American people will once again be required to live within their means, spending no more than they produce. By contrast, Professor Krugman’s destructive recipes are entirely the product of a countrafactual economic universe that does not actually exist. He wants us to borrow and print even more because our macro-economic bathtub is not yet full. And that part is true. It doesn’t even exist.
"All the Trumans – the economists, fund managers, traders, market pundits –know at some level that the environment in which they operate is not what it seems on the surface…. But the zeitgeist is so damn pleasant, the days so resplendent, the mood so euphoric, the returns so irresistible, that no one wants it to end."
Klarman is here referring to the waning days of this third and greatest financial bubble of this century. But David Stockman's take is that the crack-up boom now nearing its dénouement marks not merely the season finale of still another Fed-induced cycle of financial asset inflation, but, in fact, portends the demise of an entire era of bubble finance.
The Fed and the other major central banks have been planting time bombs all over the global financial system for years, but especially since their post-crisis money printing spree incepted in the fall of 2008. Now comes a new leader to the Eccles Building who is not only bubble-blind like her two predecessors, but is also apparently bubble-mute. Janet Yellen is pleased to speak of financial bubbles as a “misalignment of asset prices,” and professes not to espy any on the horizon. Actually, the Fed’s bubble blindness stems from even worse than servility. The problem is an irredeemably flawed monetary doctrine that tracks, targets and aims to goose Keynesian GDP flows using the crude tools of central banking. Not surprisingly, therefore, our monetary central planners are always, well, surprised, when financial fire storms break-out. Even now, after more than a half-dozen collapses since the Greenspan era of Bubble Finance incepted in 1987, they don’t recognize that it is they who are carrying what amounts to monetary gas cans.
Seth Klarman's comments on "The Truman Show" market and "born bulls" appeared to upset the status quo today on CNBC leaving none other than Joe Kernan and then later, Jim Cramer questioning Klarman's credentials with a passive-aggressive "when did Klarman turn negative? We should look into that..." question. We found it intriguing and wondered how much the investing public weights the differing views of these veritable titans of stock market wisdom. The answer - a market-based answer - lie in the purest measure of all... the cost of acquiring their knowledge...
5 years ago today, the S&P 500 made its post-crisis low at the oddly demonic 666 level. What many may not remember is... the last so-called-at-the-time "secular" bull market lasts exactly 5 years and 1 day (from October 10th 2002 to October 11th 2007)... it's different this time though.