You can be forgiven for thinking that the world is a pretty terrible place right now, exclaims JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest. With 11.7% of the world's population currently at war (and a considerably larger percentage seemingly on the verge), it seemed an appropriate time to summarize the main geopolitical risk points in the world.
Because when it comes down to it (as we explained here), all that matters is the resources...
As he visited clients around the nation, JPMorgan CIO Michael Cembalest noted a number of questions repeated... why can’t the US spend more on infrastructure? why can’t the US spend more on worker retraining? why is less money being spent on training, employment and related social services? why is energy spending falling? The answer, ne explains below, to all these questions is the same: these categories are declining since they are being squeezed out by the inexorable rise in entitlement payments.
"After digesting all the hyperbole and the pessimism, my biggest concern is not that Bitcoin will fail, but that it or one of its many virtual currency competitors will one day succeed."
We have some great news for those Americans who are still in the labor force (so that excludes about 92 million working age US citizens) and still have a (full-time) job: you are now working longer than ever! In fact, as JPM's Michael Cembalest observes using Conference Board data, the average manufacturing workweek is now just shy of 42 hours - the longest in over 60 years. And there are those who say Americans are lazy...
While the BLS may be searching far and wide for evidence of hedonically-adjusted "core" inflation, and not finding it anywhere (expect in assets, housing prices, food and energy, but apparently all America buys every day are LCD TVs and iPads), one place where not even the BLS can hide what is clear and present "inflation" is college grade point averages, and especially grades for humanities courses, where as the saying goes pretty much everyone is "above average." And, as JPM adds, "Soon, colleges will have to “turn the dial up to 11” or else everyone will have the maximum GPA." Well, in a society where the push is to make everyone equal, it would only be fair for everyone to get the exact same perfect grades...
... the average person in the generation that turned 65 this year received $327 thousand dollars more in lifetime government benefits than they paid in Federal taxes. On the other hand, children born in the future (e.g., yours) will have a lifetime deficit on this basis of -$421 thousand dollars. If it sounds unfair, it is.
Productivity. Every employer loves it, and every employee is fascinated by it, especially if it comes in cute colors, a retina screen, and weighs under a pound... at least until such time as "productivity" results in the loss of the employee's job, which in turn makes the employer love it even more as it results in even higher profits, even if it means one more pink slip and a 91 million people outside the labor force. With a labor force already in turmoil as millions drop out every year never to be heard from again, made obscolete by the latest technological and computerized innovation, and students stuck in college where they pile up record amounts of student loans (at last check well over $1 trillion) hoping form some job, any job, upon graduation, unfortunately the future is not bright at all. In a recently published paper, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation," Oxford researchers Frey and Osborne, look at the probability of computerization by occuption. What they find is shocking for nearly half of the US labor force.
A decision by the FHFA requiring the GSEs to finally release detailed information on loans they acquired and guaranteed uncovers an ugly truth about the GSEs that many should be aware of (as we noted the exuberance here). The release was only required on 35 million fully-amortizing, full documentation, 30-year fixed rate mortgages, which means as JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest notes the underwriting histories on another 20-30 million loans (e.g., the riskier ones) remain a mystery (and likely will forever). As Cembalest concludes, some people made up their minds on all the factors causing the housing crisis in 2009, and others in 2011. As long as new information keeps coming out, it seems premature to close the book on it, he adds, first, the private sector descent into underwriting hell took place well after the multi-trillion dollar GSE balance sheets had gone there first; and second, there are many reasons to wonder how bad the former would have been had the latter not preceded it.
The most important question we should be asking is not the one that Stewart repeated several times while grilling Sebelius: “Businesses were given a delay of a year, but individuals were not given that option, why is that?” The bigger question is: “If the administration messed up so badly on the seemingly mundane task of building a website, how much will Obamacare damage the broader economy and the nation’s long-term fiscal health?” The Stewart-Sebelius interview drew attention to the second question only briefly, when Stewart mentioned that employers were converting full-time workers to part-time due to the ACA. But he failed to challenge Sebelius’ weak response that “economists – not the anecdotal folks – but economists say there’s absolutely no evidence that part-time work is going up.” This is exactly where an informed and unbiased interviewer would have dug further to expose the truth.
The chart shows dollars spent on entitlements for every dollar spent on non-defense discretionary spending (NDDS). This latter category includes education, infrastructure, energy R&D, law enforcement and a wide range of other things that affect the productivity and the general well-being of the US economy (see table), not just today but into the future. The entitlements-to-NDDS ratio is already at an all-time high, and is headed for the stratosphere during the next few years according to CBO projections.
The situation in Italy appears to be going from bad to worse. With a confidence vote pending for Tuesday as the government dissolves into chaos for the umpteenth time, and following the resignation of the CEO of one of Italy's largest non-financial corporations (Telecom Italia), the largest bank (by assets) in Italy - Intesa SanPaolo has announced - effective immediately - the resignation of its CEO and replacement with Carlo Messina. According to sources, the now former CEO had lost the confidence of shareholders (which is odd given the bank's stock is near 2-year highs). We can't help but wonder Ayn Rand-like at the devolution of the ruling class in Italy and what happens next (in light of the crumbling manufacturing and production data).
Italy’s Stability Program targets a 5%-6% primary budget surplus, and 3% nominal GDP growth. Both strike JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest as unrealistic in the context of post-crisis Italy. Italy ran a 6% surplus for a brief moment in the 1990’s but it didn’t last, as it was the result of a prior devaluation helping growth, some asset sales and some tax increases. Only asset sales seem feasible in Italy right now, if anything. If Cembalest's concerns are correct, Italy will remain a country with almost twice the debt/GDP ratio as the US; unbreakable interdependency of the government, the banks, and the ECB; and low GDP and employment growth. If history is any guide, he will be right as the last few years have seen the biggest collapse in Italian GDP since The Unification in 1861...
While everyone knows that there is a profound ideological schism when it comes to those for and against the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, what may not be appreciated is that Obamacare was, and still is, the most contentious and polarizing legislation in the history of Congress. At least, it is according to JPMorgan. In the chart below, JPM's Michael Cembalest shows that the "disagreement gap" between Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, over 100 years of impactful legislation, has never been greater than with Obamacare.
1:1 In the beginning, Ben Bernanke hath said, let there be liquidity.
1:6 And so each among them sayeth the following benediction: “May the Fed bless you and keep you; may the Fed extend its balance sheet to shine upon you; and may the Fed lift up asset prices and protect you from harm”