This week's Barron's cover looks like a pretty strong warning sign for stocks (not only the cover, but also what's inside). However, there may be an even more stunning capitulation datum out there, in this case a survey that we have frequently mentioned in the past, the NAAIM survey of fund managers. This survey has reached an all time high in net bullishness last week, with managers on average 104% long. The nonsense people will talk – people who really should know better - is sometimes truly breathtaking. Recently a number of strategists from large institutions, i.e., people who get paid big bucks for coming up with this stuff, have assured us that “equities are underowned”, that “money will flow from bonds to equities”, and that “money sitting on the sidelines” will be drawn into the market. These fallacies are destroyed below. And finally, while, theoretically, the “inflation” backdrop is a kind of sweet spot for stock, even to those who insist that stocks will protect one against the ravages of sharply rising prices of goods and services, As Kyle Bass recently explained, the devaluation of money in the wider sense was even more pronounced than the increase in stock prices. Stocks did not protect anyone in the sense of fully preserving one's purchasing power. The only things that actually preserved purchasing power were gold, foreign exchange and assorted hard assets for which a liquid market exists.
These days one has to laugh with the Japanese, as the temptation to laugh at them is just so high. Because, sadly, the endless barrage of negative developments surrounding the "Land of the Rising Sun" may soon require a constitutional amendment replacing that key adjective to "Setting." And while everyone knows that Japan's economy is the Keynesian voodoo religion's event horizon laughing stock, caught between a 30 year deflationary implosion which is the only permissive factor allowing it to sustain interest payments on a 235% debt/GDP mountain, and a banking, debt and funding crisis should the government "succeed" in generating inflation, it is the intangibles that will be the proverbial straw that breaks this particular camel's back. Intangibles, such as 2011's tsunami and Fukushima explosion, which have made sure that every piece of domestic sushi will be pre self-cooked for generations. Yet glowing in the dark may have just been the beginning: now Japan also has a toxic, photochemical smog problem to boot.
In recent years gold has become a sought-after currency in Vietnam. Why? The usual reason: its government has been printing too much money, causing prices to rise, and causing its currency, the Vietnamese dong, to plummet in value. But by holding gold instead of the domestic currency, Vietnamese citizens know their wealth’s value will be kept constant while the local currency declines. Recently, however, the government-run Vietnamese central bank disallowed loans in gold. Now, it is preventing banks from paying interest to customers on their gold. Instead, it is forcing banks to charge customer to store their gold. Offensive as this all is, it is not - yet - as offensive as steps the U.S. government took in 1933.
Gold market analysts have a tougher job than other financial analysts. It is more difficult to analyze the yellow metal than equities because quantitative measures such as yield, cash flows, balance sheet leverage, and growth rates that provide a fundamental basis for analysis do not exists for gold. The fundamentals of gold are the current purchasing power of money; expectations about the future purchasing power of money; the growth rates of various national money supplies; the volume of bad debts in the system; expected growth rates of bad debts; the attractiveness of other available investments; and the investor’s preference for consumption rather than investment. These factors do not act directly on the gold price. Instead, they are focused through the prism of investor preferences, which are not measurable. The price is the ultimate measurement of how investors view these factors. Gold presents a paradox: that which drives the price cannot be measured, that which can be measured does not drive the price.
Amid the euphoria of today's crossing of the Dow's Maginot Line at 14,000, Kyle Bass provided a few minutes of sanity this morning in an interview with CNBC's Gary Kaminsky. Bass starts by reflecting on the ongoing (and escalating) money-printing (or balance sheet expansion as we noted here) as the driver of stock movements currently and would not be surprised to see them move higher still (given the ongoing printing expected). However, he caveats that nominally bullish statement with a critical point, "Zimbabwe's stock market was the best performer this decade - but your entire portfolio now buys you 3 eggs" as purchasing power is crushed. Investors, he says, are "too focused on nominal prices" as the rate of growth of the monetary base is destroying true wealth. Bass is convinced that cost-push inflation is coming (as the velocity of money will move once psychology shifts) and investors must not take their eye off the insidious nature of underlying inflation - no matter what we are told by the government (as they will always lie when its critical). Own 'productive assets', finance them at low fixed rates (thank you Ben), and finally, on HLF, don't bet against Dan Loeb.
Food stamps are just a payoff to the poor. It keeps them off the streets. It’s an unspoken bribe plain and simple. The oligarchs do not want angry, roving, hungry masses on the streets while they strip mine what’s left of the economy. However, the oligarchs have another problem to deal with - the huge group of people that resides in between them and the poor. The average person can feel themselves getting poorer despite the nonsense spewed by the mainstream media; and this is where the stock market comes into play. More than any other group, the 1% has been convinced that the stock market represents some sort of leading indicator of wealth and prosperity. A rising stock market today is actually a leading indicator of the destruction of the middle class, cultural destitution and a society in collapse. The stock market is like slop in a pigpen. It is a key instrument used to keep the 1% from getting antsy. Unlike the middle class (a group that isn’t falling for any of the tricks), many of the 1% work on Wall Street or related industries and own stocks. They must be kept quiet as the coup that started in 2008 is brought to fruition. So as the 1% sits around analyzing a casino, the poor collect food stamps and the middle class dies.
The Keynesian belief that the government can print/ borrow and spend enough money to trigger self-sustaining prosperity is a nonsensical, magical-thinking Cargo Cult. The following charts show why it will continue to fail, with eventually catastrophic results: the returns on this unprecedented borrow-spend policy are diminishing to near-zero or negative. As long as the interest rate on debt is low, the path of least resistance is to keep borrowing to support politically untouchable fiefdoms, cartels and constituencies. Eventually, the cost of servicing the debt overwhelms the diminishing returns on the debt-based spending.
"History is replete with examples of societies whose downfalls were related to or caused by the destruction of money. The end of this phase of global financial history will likely erupt suddenly. It will take almost everyone by surprise, and then it may grind a great deal of capital and societal cohesion into dust and pain. We wish more global leaders understood the value of sound economic policy, the necessity of sound money, and the difference between governmental actions that enable growth and economic stability and those that risk abject ruin. Unfortunately, it appears that few leaders do."
- Paul Singer, Elliott Management
The quest for cheap energy and cheap labor is a conquering human urge, one that has played out with notable ferocity starting with the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of coal into British manufacturing, and the more recent outsourcing of Western manufacturing to Asia, have marked key thresholds in this ongoing progression. But despite the harvesting of additional productivity gains from the more recent revolution in information technology, the suite of macro data suggests that the rate of advancement in physical production has slowed, notably, in the past thirty years. Seen in this light, the greatest gains to global industrial production were probably enjoyed from the late 18th century (when coal extraction and use began in earnest) into the mid-20th century (when oil reached broad distribution). In contrast, computers, the Internet, and the leveraging of developing world labor might eventually be seen as the finishing touches on this great industrial wave.
Icahn was just blowing smoke.
Hope is dying in the US. The performance of financial markets affects everyone. For savers and investors, these markets represent the means to an improved life, at least as they define it. We are twelve years into this new century and Americans are losing their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Twelve years in, the S&P 500 has returned a total of 14%. That puny return has not come close to covering the decline in purchasing power of the dollar during the same period. The country's financial condition is deplorable and cannot continue much longer. So, too is virtually everything else the government has touched whether it be education, Amtrak, the post office, Social Security, Medicare, ad nauseum. Nothing government has done has not been a Ponzi scheme dependent upon additional theft from taxpayers to keep going. The system is now broken. There is no one to blame for this other than government. Despite this obvious conclusion, government is still seen to be a savior by a large proportion of the country.
The reliable data which policymakers and the public need if effective solutions are to be found is not available. As Tullett Prebon's Tim Morgan notes, economic data has been subjected to incremental distortion; Data distortion can be divided into two categories. Economic data has been undermined by decades of methodological change which have distorted the statistics to the point where no really accurate data is available for the critical metrics of inflation, growth, output, unemployment or debt. Fiscal data, meanwhile, obscures the true scale of government obligations. While he does not believe that the debauching of US official data is the result of any grand conspiracy to mislead the American people; he does see it as an incremental process which has taken place over more than four decades. From 'owner equivalent rent" to 'hedonics', few series have been distorted more than published numbers for inflation, and few if any economic measures are of comparable importance; and the ramifications of understated inflation are huge.
Currency wars have captured the imagination of many. However, the modern history of the foreign exchange market demonstrates that is has always been an arena in which nation-states compete. Typically central banks want the currency's exchange rate to affirm not contradict monetary policy. The synchronized crisis and easier monetary policy makes it appear that nearly ever one wants a weak currency. Yet most officials are on low rungs of the intervention escalation ladder. Moreover, there is no sign of it spilling over to a trade war. Has any one else noticed that Japan's largest trading partner and regional rival China has been quiet, not joining the the chorus of criticism?
It is no secret that one of Zero Hedge's favorite mainstream strategists over the years was SocGen's Dylan Grice, which perhaps in itself was a logical warning sign that his career in the mainstream was doomed to a premature end. Sure enough, several months ago, Grice, whose guiding motto has been sound money uber alles as he dutifully exposed - as much as he could - crack after crack in the facade of the status quo, announced he was leaving SocGen, and was headed for greener pastures, literally, in this case Zurich-based fund Edelweiss, run by Anthony Deden. And while lateral moves in the financial industry are nothing new, we were quite impressed to learn that unlike most other "capital preservation" managers, Dylan Grice's new home has a rather stunning allocation of AUM to precious metals. How stunning? Decide for yourselves.
As China's major trading partners try to control rising public pension and health care costs, they may not realize they also have an important stake in China's ongoing struggle to fashion a safety net for its own rapidly aging population. Many observers assume China has no pensions or healthcare insurance for the 185 million people over the age of 60 (13.7% of population), the highest official retirement age for most workers. They may well believe this explains why Chinese families save so much–more than 30% of household income–and therefore spend less on consumer goods, including imports from trading partners.