Last week Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered what may well be his last Congressional testimony before leaving the Federal Reserve in 2014. Unfortunately, his farewell performance was full of contradictory comments about the state of the economy and the effects of Fed policies on the market. One thing Bernanke inadvertently made clear was that the needs of Wall Street trump Main street, the economy, and sound money.
Financial asset investors may continue to benefit in the short term while stocks and bonds remain well bid, but production and labor in over-levered economies should continue to wither. When we take it to its logical conclusion, central banks cannot withdraw debt support (on a net basis) and so our baseless currencies seem highly likely to fail to provide sustainable purchasing power. (This happens as producers demand more currency units for their labor and resources, not when consumers drive prices higher by competing with each other for finite supplies of labor and resources.) Continued inflation of all global currency stocks is likely. This implies to us that fundamental expectations of the inevitability of price inflation across borders and in all currencies must change, from unlikely to highly likely. Since very few investors expect rising inflation anytime soon, the return skew is overwhelmingly positive in its favor.
So, when it boils down to it what does it take to become a 1-percenter in the US? You know, one of the elite, the people with power.
Bernanke's prepared remarks, which said nothing the market did not already know, have already been disseminated, and now it is time for the House Financial Services Committee to open their mouths and confirm to everyone they have no idea they are now irrelevant (everyone already knew they have zero understanding of monetary policy and that in fact, Bernanke is begging Congress to raise spending so he has more QE purchasing power as all Ben does to the Hill is monetize their deficit) and the sole person who calls the shots is an unelected Princeton historian, with his finger on the print button. So, without further ado, here is Ben Bernanke at the "Delivering Beta" conference, live from room 2128 in the Rayburn House Office Building.
That Marx's prescription for a socialist/Communist alternative to capitalism failed does not necessarily negate his critique of capitalism. Marx spent hundreds of pages analyzing capital and capitalism and relatively few sketching out a pie-in-the-sky alternative that was not grounded in historical examples or working models. So it is no surprise that his prescriptive work is an occasionally risible historical curiosity while his critique stands as a systemic analysis. Marx got a number of things right, one of which appears to be playing out on a global scale.
If Bernanke is looking for inflation under every rock and cranny, he may have just found it in today's PPI, if only in its energy components. While the headline June number was expected to jump sequentially by 0.5%, the same as May, the final print came at 0.8%, or 2.5% on a Y/Y basis - the highest since March 2012 - driven entirely by Energy good prices, which soared by 2.9% sequentially, the most since February's 3.2%. Foods PPI jumped by a more manageable 0.2%, although no matter how, it is inevitable that producers will now pass both of these to consumers whose purchasing power, especially at the gas pump, is about to be severely tested especially with fuel prices now once again rising at the fastest pace in months.
Klarman Clarity: "If The Government [Still] Can't Allow Failure Then We Are Indeed Close To Collapse"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/11/2013 10:06 -0400
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.
- Seth Klarman, Baupost
After the angst that he created when he last spoke, and today's shenanigans after the Minutes, we can only imagine how his presentation at the NBER's Boston conference will impact the markets. We would be surprised if anything new came from Bernanke's presentation on "The Last 100 Years of The Federal Reserve" but the following Q&A (as we noted here) will be trial-balloon after trial-balloon we suspect as he prepares for next week's Humphrey-Hawkins.
As the EU agrees to fund another bailout deal to help Greece rise from the ashes, providing them with another $8.7 billion in financial aid, the question that begs an answer is: will this have any effect on the austerity that is being imposed on the country. Throwing good money after bad?
As we pointed out here, the impact on both 'real' housing affordability of surging mortgage rates is extremely significant for the so-called 'housing recovery' but as Charles Hugh-Smith notes, there is a more insidious (inflation-like) effect (aside from the consumer-confidence sapping one we described here). Rising mortgage rates reduce household purchasing power just like higher taxes and inflation. That means there is less household income to spend on other things, and that's not good for "growth."
Once again it seems cash is king if the housing recovery is to continue. Despite the surge in prices that we saw yesterday that reflected the long-forgotten days before mortgage rates exploded, the housing recovery meme remains loud and proud. But, mortgage applications are now down for 7 of the last 8 weeks and have collapsed a stunning 29% over that time. - the biggest plunge in 30 months. It appears that the 'rational' buyer has decided that higher rates are not the factor that drives them to snap up that surging priced home? Is it any wonder, as we noted here, in spite of being told every day how 'affordable' housing is with rates this low, their real purchasing power (given a limited budget as opposed to free money-based finance) has plunged by 16% (for now).
A week ago, we provided a simple, irrefutable analysis of "What The Recent Surge In Rates Means For Your Home Purchasing Power" in which we demonstrated how the average home affordability goes down (due to the declining marginal purchasing power in a rising rate environment) as interest rates (for mortgages and all rate-sensitive products) go up. What this means is that all else equal, absent a massive increase in disposable income (especially when the opposite is happening to disposable income), the average home affordability plunges as rates go up. So here is the benchmark price-rate curve updated for a reality, in which the national average 30 Year fixed has exploded from 3.40% on May 1 to a whopping (for the New Normal) 4.875% as of today for Wells Fargo customers. The matching affordability collapse: from $450K to $378K, or a stunning 16% equilibrium price drop in under two months!
The "XXXXX is not YYYYY" jokes aside, Europe's union of nations is beginning to separate increasingly between the haves and the have-nots. The sad truth, as Bloomberg's Niraj Shah notes, is that recession/depression has pushed Spanish and Italian GDP-per-capita below the EU average in purchasing power terms - just like Cyprus, Slovenia, and Greece. Irish GDP per capita was 29% above the average, while Greek and Portuguese per capita output were 25% below. Output per head for the EU ranged between 47% (Bulgaria) and 271% (Luxembourg) of the average. With today's news that retroactive ESM recaps are unlikely, the banking-sovereign symbiosis of Spain and Italy will increasingly come under pressure and with productivity so dismal, there is little hope for now.
In one month, the average 30 year fixed rate mortgage has jumped by over 60 basis points. What does this mean for net purchasing power? Well, as the chart below shows, assuming a $2000/month budget to be spent on amortizing a mortgage (or otherwise spent for rent), it means that suddenly instead of being able to afford a $425K house, the average consumer can buy a $395K house . This means that, all else equal, housing just sustained a 7% drop in the average equlibrium price based on what buyers can afford. But assuming the current selloff in rates continues, things are going to get much worse: we may be seeing 5%, 5.5% even 6% and higher mortgages in the immediate future. It also means that a buyer who could previously afford a $506K house with a $2,000 monthly budget at an interest rate of 2.5% will be able to afford only $316K if and when the average 30 Year fixed hits 6.5%: a 40% drop in affordability based on just a 4% increase in interest rates!
A suddenly seemingly hawkish Ben Bernanke may be giving the impression he is preparing to taper because he feels confident enough about the recovery (just don't ask him about sudden dramatic rises in yields: that "puzzles" him). Yet as those who have been reading Zero Hedge for the past three years know, this jobs "recovery" is purely quantitative (not to mention seasonally adjusted): the quality of jobs regained is, in a word, abysmal, with the bulk of new job creation benefiting part-time and minimum-wage jobs. If anything, this loss of saving power, is the backdrop not for a recovery, but for a depression far more acute than the current "sugar-high" one when the Fed finally pulls the training wheels off, and when the US consumer realizes that all purchasing power is gone, all gone, and in exchange the only valuable and competitive job skills gained have been, well, absolutely none.