The U.S. stock market rally has recently passed its fourth anniversary after the terrifying lows of March 2009. During that time, massive and unconventional reflationary policy from the Federal Reserve has managed to lift the S&P 500 to new all-time highs. But perhaps even more improbably, it has finally (for now?) built a floor under U.S. residential real estate prices. This 'Less Bad' Recovery continues in other ways as well. Jobs have been created. Not good jobs. Not high paying jobs. Not full time jobs. But some rudimentary sets of tasks and responsibilities that could be called jobs. There has also been deleveraging. But here, too, the scale of debt reduction is nothing close to the unadjusted figures often touted in the media. Americans, and more generally, OECD citizens, remain highly burdened by debt. When combined with poor wage growth, this explains the continued suppressed demand so pervasive in developed nations. And of course, oil prices – as expressed through prices at the pump – remain stubbornly elevated and are likely to persist at their new elevated level. Combined, these factors have kept a lid on consumer confidence and make for a precarious disparity between the stock market and the real economy. Welcome to the Great Constraint - a growing failure to thrive.
Before 1971, U.S. dollars were backed by gold. This meant that the federal government could not print more money than it could redeem for gold. While this constrained the federal government, it also provided citizens with a relatively stable purchasing power for goods and services. As Learn Liberty explains in this simple 4 minute clip, today's paper currency has no intrinsic value; it is not based on the value of gold or anything else. Under a gold standard, inflation was really limited. With floating value, or fiat, currency, however, some countries have seen inflation reach extremely high levels - sometimes enough to lead to economic collapse. Gold standards have historically provided more stable currencies with lower inflation than fiat currency. Of course, this leaves the question open of whether the United States return to a gold standard? But does provide some hints.
Last week at its regular policy-setting meeting, the Federal Reserve affirmed that it is prepared to increase its monthly purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities if things don’t start looking up. In all, the Fed has pumped more than a half trillion dollars into the economy since announcing its latest round of “quantitative easing” (QE3) in September 2012. With no recovery in sight, where’s all this money going? It is creating bubbles. Bubbles in the housing sector, the stock market, and government debt. In the meantime, real families are suffering. We are certainly not in a recovery. We don’t see the long unemployment and soup kitchen lines like in the Great Depression, but that’s just because the lines are electronic now. We know what the real solution is: allow the marketplace to work. Restore sound money to the economy and the American people. Sound money is the bedrock for prosperity and the best check on big government and crony capitalism.
With equity valuations no longer levitating but in a different, 4th dimension altogether, and credit spreads compressing dramatically (and unreasonably)... It is in situations like these, when the crash comes, that the proverbial run for liquidity forces central banks to coordinate liquidity injections. However, something tells me that this time, the trick won’t work. Over almost a century, we have witnessed the slow and progressive destruction of the best global mechanism available to cooperate in the creation and allocation of resources. This process began with the loss of the ability to address flow imbalances (i.e. savings, trade). After the World Wars, it became clear that we had also lost the ability to address stock imbalances, and by 1971 we ensured that any price flexibility left to reset the system in the face of an adjustment would be wiped out too. From this moment, adjustments can only make way through a growing series of global systemic risk events with increasingly relevant consequences. Swaps, as a tool, will no longer be able to face the upcoming challenges. When this fact finally sets in, governments will be forced to resort directly to basic asset confiscation.
For 727 editions, and nearly 30 years, Bill Buckler, the "captain" of the free market-praising Privateer newsletter provided a welcome escape from a world overrun with "free-lunch" economists, "for-hire" politicians, "crony-capitalist" oligarchs, "heroin-addict" bankers, "the-solution-to-record-debt-is-more-record-debt" Keynesians, and all those other subclasses of that species which Einstein, or whoever, described so aptly in saying that they all expect a different, and happy, outcome when applying the same flawed methods over and over. And for 30 years, Buckler's steadfast determination and adherence to his arguments, beliefs, reasoning and ironclad logic brought him countless followers, all of whom are now able to see past the bread and circus facade of a world every day on the edge of political and social collapse. Sadly, all good things come to an end, and so does The Privateer. We are delighted to celebrate its illustrious memory by presenting to our readers the final, must read, issue of the newsletter which encapsulates the philosophy and ideology of its author - a man much respected and admired in the free market circles - and thirty years of objective, unbiased market and economic commentary, best of all.
The pricing of 'safe' assets reflects the ongoing uncertainty in a world that is in the grip of the lunacy of policymakers who have seemingly lost all sense of perspective and are engaged in a huge gamble. This essential fundamental backdrop has not changed for the better lately, but for the worse. What this once again demonstrates is that intervention by central banks is creating incentives for many institutional investors to take inordinate risks in the name of preserving the purchasing power of the savings that have been entrusted to them. The problem is that the gains of today are absolutely certain to become the losses of tomorrow for investors taking the bait, as the echo bubble created by loose monetary policy is fated to turn into a major bust once the boom has played out. When the tide is going out, a great many naked swimmers will be revealed.
Seth Klarman: "If The Economy Is So Fragile That Government Can't Allow Failure Then We Are Indeed Close To Collapse"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 05/03/2013 15:43 -0400
Following today's flashback to the most euphoric and irrationally exuberant days of market peaks (and bubbles) gone by, driven entirely by the now constant central-planner dilution of current and future wealth, these selected excerpts from Seth Klarman's latest letter to investors is just the cold water of common sense everyone needs:"The average citizen knows that a society's wealth is not unlimited, and that if the economy is so fragile that the government cannot allow failure, then we are indeed close to collapse. For if you must rescue everything, then ultimately you will be able to rescue nothing. They also know that the only reason paper money, backed not by anything tangible but only a promise, has any value at all is because it is scarce. With all the printing, the credibility of our entire trust-based monetary system will be increasingly called into question. And when you tell the populace that we can all enjoy a free lunch of extremely low interest rates, massive Fed purchases of mounting treasury issuance, trillions of dollars of expansion in the Fed's balance sheet, and huge deficits far into the future, they are highly skeptical not because they know precisely what will happen but because they are sure that no one else--even, or perhaps especially, the policymakers—does either."
Europe has already entered a Japanese sort of existence and America will be coming next in our opinion. We are caught in a trap of our own making and this will be the price for the printing of all of this money. As China has reached its apex and begun a gradual grinding down in their economy, as Japan wrestles with insolvency, as Europe falls further into its sinkhole; America will follow. Make hay while you can but you may also wish to notice that the fields are shrinking and that less hay may be forthcoming. Borrowers have reaped the benefits. Those with money have paid the price. Wealth that can be redeployed is evaporating. Buying power is in decline. There is always a price. The reason is simple enough; it is the consequence of what the central banks are doing.
The highlights from Bill Gross' monthly letter: "The past decade has proved that houses were merely homes and not ATM machines. They were not “good as money.” Likewise, the Fed’s modern day liquid wealth creations such as bonds and stocks may suffer a similar fate at a future bubbled price whether it be 1.50% for a 10-year Treasury or Dow 16,000.... if there are no spending cuts or asset price write-offs, then it’s hard to see how deficits and outstanding debt as a percentage of GDP can ever be reduced.... Current policies come with a cost even as they act to magically float asset prices higher, making many of them to appear “good as money”. And the take away: "PIMCO’s advice is to continue to participate in an obviously central-bank-generated bubble but to gradually reduce risk positions in 2013 and perhaps beyond. While this Outlook has indeed claimed that Treasuries are money good but not “good money,” they are better than the alternative (cash) as long as central banks and dollar reserve countries (China, Japan) continue to participate....a bond and equity investor can choose to play with historically high risk to principal or quit the game and earn nothing."
We recently asked:"are there really unpredictable market shocks or are investors paid not to care? To us, all signs point towards the next currency reset. We think monetary authorities are compulsively destroying the current global monetary system; they simply have no choice if they are to keep it afloat in the short term." With Bernanke not attending Jackson Hole, we think the choice for next Fed Chair may have profound economic implications, and that it would not require expertise in econometric modeling, credit policy management, and maintaining the public perception of economic stability. We think the next Fed Chairman will oversee a conversion of the global monetary regime. Neither growth nor austerity nor gloom of night will stay these currencies from their appointed devaluations. Bank balance sheets must be preserved; ergo sufficient inflation must be manufactured. We think the dull but persistent economic malaise amid increasingly aggressive monetary intervention policies will soon engender fear among the not-so-great washed – net savers. We think all should question whether we are 100% wrong. If not, then prudence dictates some allocation to properly held precious metals. (Presently, it is less than 1% of all global pensions.)
In the past months and right after implementing Quantitative Easing Unlimited Edition, the Fed began surfacing the idea that an exit strategy is at the door. With the latest releases of weak activity data worldwide, the idea was put back in the closet. However, a few analysts have already discussed the implications of the smoothest of all exit strategies: An exit without asset sales; a buy & hold exit. We have no doubt that as soon as allowed, the idea will resurface again. Underlying all official discussions is the notion that an exit strategy is a “stock”, rather than a flow problem, that the Fed can make decisions independently of the fiscal situation of the US and that international coordination can be ignored. This is logically inconsistent as we address below...
Over the years, Jim O'Neill, former Chairman of GSAM, rose to fame for pegging the BRIC acronym (no such luck for the guy who came up with the far more applicable and accurate PIIGS, or STUPIDS, monikers, but that's neither here nor there). O'Neill was correct in suggesting, about a decade ago, that the rise of the middle class in these countries and their purchasing power would prove to be a major driving force in the world economy. O'Neill was wrong in his conclusion as to what the ultimate driver of said purchasing power would be: as it has become all too clear with the entire world drowning in debt (and recently China), it was pure and simply debt. O'Neill was horribly wrong after the Great Financial Crisis when he suggested that it would be the BRIC nation that would push the world out of depression. To the contrary, not only is the world not out of depression as the fourth consecutive year of deteriorating economic data confirms (long since disconnected with the actual capital markets), but it is the wanton money (and bad debt) creation by the central banks of the developed world (as every instance of easing by China has led to an immediate surge of inflation in the domestic market) that has so far allowed the day of reckoning, and waterfall debt liquidations, to take place (and certainly don't look at the stock index performance of China, Brazil, India or Russia). Despite his errors, he has been a good chap having taken much of the abuse piled upon him here at Zero Hedge somewhat stoically, as well as a fervent ManU supporter, certainly at least somewhat of a redeeming quality. Attached please find his final, farewell letter as Chairman of the Goldman Asset Management division, as he moves on to less tentacular pastures.
We have commented numerous times on the inexorable rise in Spanish non-performing loans (NPLs). Since the Spanish economy started to weaken at the end of 2006, NPLs have been rising sharply; but the subsequent collapse of the Spanish property market exacerbated the matter further, causing a spike in NPLs in 2007 and 2008. Since then, the Euro area crisis and subsequent sharp rise in unemployment have led NPLs at Spanish banks to make new record highs. However, they are not alone. Italian banks did not suffer a property market collapse and so the rise in NPLs started later than in Spain and was not as severe. However, as JPMorgan notes, the sharp rise in unemployment we have seen since mid 2011 has led to an acceleration in NPLs at Italian banks. What should be most worrying for incoming PM Letta, is that from the respective troughs for each country (the trough for Spain was a lot earlier than for Italy, about two years in actual fact), Italy is looking eerily similar. The rise in NPLs at Spanish banks over the past two years has had a lot to do with the recession and rise in unemployment. To the extent that Italian unemployment has only started to rise sharply a year and a half ago, the future path for NPLs at Italian banks looks set to follow that of Spain. So why aren't bond spreads blowing wider? Answer below...
We recently showed 220 years of US Treasury bond yield history but all too often, the average investor is unfortunately unaware of the relationship between bond yields (interesting on a relative-value perspective) and bond prices (the thing that matters for your portfolio's returns). The two measures are inextricably linked obviously (a higher yield implies a lower price and vice versa) but the relationship is not a straight line - it has 'convexity'. The following charts may help understand the upside-downside changes from 'yield' movements, what the Fed is doing to the relationship, and how inflation expectations impact these changes.
The crypto-currency Bitcoin is still merely a speck on the global monetary landscape. It is young, experimental, and for all we know, it may ultimately fail to break into the monetary mainstream. However, on a conceptual level some are willing to call it a work of genius and arguably the most exciting development in the field of money for more than 130 years. The outcome is probably binary: Either Bitcoin ultimately fails and the individual Bitcoins end up worthless. Or Bitcoin takes off and Bitcoins are worth hundreds of thousands of paper dollars, paper yen, paper euros, or paper pounds. Maybe more. Those who buy Bitcoin as a speculative investment should consider it an option on the future success of the crypto-currency. We still consider gold to be the essential self-defense asset in the ongoing paper money crisis. The brand-new crypto-currency Bitcoin has to first earn its stripes as a monetary asset by proving itself as a ‘common’ medium of exchange. That is why we view Bitcoin very differently from gold, although the attraction of both has its origin in the demise of entirely elastic, politicized state fiat money. In the meantime, the debasement of paper money continues.