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.
It is hard to find a policymaker who hasn’t actively tried to talk his currency down. The few who don’t talk, act as if they were intent on driving their currency lower. Citi's Steven Englander argues below that the ‘currency wars’ impact is collective monetary/liquidity easing. Collective easing is not neutral for currencies, the USD and JPY tend to fall when risk appetite grows while other currencies appreciate. Moreover, despite the rhetoric on intervention, we think that direct or indirect intervention is credible only in countries where domestic asset prices are undervalued and CPI/asset price inflation are not issues. In other countries, intervention can boost domestic asset prices and borrowing and create more medium-term economic and asset price risk than conventional currency overvaluation would. So the MoF/BoJ may be credible in their intervention, but countries whose economies and asset markets are performing more favorably have much more to lose from losing control of asset markets. So JPY and, eventually CHF, are likely to fall, but if the RBA or BoC were to engage in active intervention they may find themselves quickly facing unfavorable domestic asset market dynamics.
In light of this evening's entertainment from Paul Krugman, we thought QBAMCO's Paul Brodsky's view of the present debt-ceiling policy-through-the-looking-glass extremely apropos. Speaking of monetary abstractionism, there has been recent talk of a fiscal gimmick called “The Trillion Dollar Coin,” in which a platinum coin valued at $1 trillion would be created by the U.S. Mint for the Treasury Department. Treasury would then rid itself of its pesky fiscal deficit in one fell swoop by simply keeping the coin on deposit at the Fed. The TDC idea is a marvel of political imagination and public ignorance. Obviously, the TDC idea is a political ploy with a targeted mission: to rid the US Treasury of its debt ceiling, which is an increasingly frequent and embarrassing public reminder of government ineptitude. Everyone knows government-led de-levering is not a serious threat. However, the irony of the scheme and its MMT (Modern Money Theory, is espoused by imaginative economists technically proficient in double-entry bookkeeping and deficient in confidence that free marketplaces can provide accurate valuations) / liberal Keynesian promoters could not be more delicious. The scheme exposes the forty year-old charade, otherwise known as the global monetary system, better than any mind-exercise we have been able to come up with.
If you ever wondered how just a few thousand bankers could impose their Ponzi global banking scheme upon 7 billion people, here is "The 9 Step Process Bankers Use to Force Global Slavery Upon Humanity."
In addition to our recent discussion of the macro-economic data in the US rolling over, and the epic proportions of net risk-taking longs, Credit Suisse outlines ten further indications that equities might be due for a 'consolidation'. Translating from sell-side research gobbledygook into reality, equity bulls are merely demonstrating the traditional phases of momentum-inspired euphoria in the face of ongoing fundamental contraction (not to mention a decline in consumption and marginal US purchasing power) - and earnings expectations, US fiscal tightening, and a modest rise in deficit-increasing real bond yields will not help.
In part one of this two part series – Hey You – we examined how an invisible government of wealthy, power hungry men have utilized the propaganda techniques of Edward Bernays and lured the American people into a narcissistic, techno-gadget, debt based servitude. Over the last one hundred years they have created a totalitarian state built upon egotism, material goods, and fulfilling our desires through Wall Street peddled debt and mass consumerism. It has been an incredibly effective form of control that has convinced the masses to love their servitude. The lyrics to Pink Floyd's 'Mother' had both a literal and figurative meaning for Roger Waters. Having seen his Wall Tour performance this past summer at Citizens Bank Park with a diverse crowd of 40,000, ranging in age from senior citizens to teenagers, it seems this song has gained new meaning. He sang a duet with himself from 1980 projected on the Wall and when he sang the lyric, “Mother, should I trust the government?” the entire stadium responded in unison – NO!!! This revealed a truth that is not permitted to be discussed by the corporate mainstream media acting as a mouthpiece for the ruling class. A growing legion of citizens in this country does not trust the government. This is very perceptive on their part.
Ironically, the very success of stock market manipulation only thins the market of legitimate participants and thus increases the probability that risk that has been suppressed for years will erupt uncontrollably. That the stock market is manipulated is no longer in question. One explicit goal in the Fed's zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP) is to drive capital into risk assets such as stocks. That is a first-order, transparent policy of manipulation, i.e. a centrally managed policy aimed at managing markets to meet a key central-planning goal: creating an illusion of prosperity via an elevated stock market and the resultant "wealth effect" for the 10% who own enough stocks to matter. Indirect manipulation is hidden from public view lest the rigging of the market taint the perception that a rising market is "proof" that Federal Reserve and Administration policies are "succeeding." Indirect manipulation is achieved via Federal Reserve quantitative easing operations, unlimited liquidity and lines of credit to fund bank speculations and masked buying of market futures. This multilevel manipulation creates a Boolean either/or for any Bear market: either it is a planned "panic" that profits the banks or a systemic failure of the orchestrated campaign of market manipulation.
In the spirit of the holidays and hope for a more prosperous 2013, we thought readers might appreciate a little humor to partially offset the relentless 'cliff' doom and gloom. So please, don’t take this too seriously. But if you happen to stumble across a ‘paperbug’ or two over the holidays, perhaps you could share some of the points made here. Humor sometimes helps people realize just how hopelessly misguided they are... Quantitative easing changes nothing. Remember, the PhDs are in charge of our economies and they know exactly how much our money should be worth. Those of us concerned that our money might lose purchasing power are just being paranoid. Choice is dangerous. Think Adam and Eve and you’ll get my point. Those arguing in favour of monetary freedom, of choice in money, of repealing legal tender laws, they’re just like that nasty snake Lillith in the Garden of Eden, the source of all trouble I tell you. ‘Tis the season to borrow and spend folks, as indeed it has been since 1971.
Not surprisingly when wages and salaries are growing at a slower rate there is a corresponding weakness in the level of retail sales. The peak in wages and salaries occurred in early 2011 with the subsequent growth rate trending weaker. This corresponds with the economy which has continued to muddle along at a very anemic pace. While it may be likely that the damage from Hurricane Sandy may have soured some sales, particularly in the North East, it is unlikely to have had much of an effect on the retail sales nation wide. For majority of America the "fiscal cliff" debate largely goes unnoticed as it remains a battle between the White House and the "rich" - for the rest the country it is more of a distraction from the things that matter like "Honey Boo Boo" and "Housewives Of Whereever". What does matter though, as stated above, are incomes. The decline in incomes, which can be seen in the roughly 1.2 million person increase in food stamp participation from June to September, is why retail "holiday" spending is weaker. With credit limits reduced, incomes stagnant and real costs of living on the rise - it is not surprising that retail sales are far weaker than the NRF's holiday season predictions.
As unemployment rose toward 10%, the January 1975 cover of Ramparts magazine blared: The End of Affluence: The Last Christmas in America. (TLCIA). Now statistics are echoing that last great recession: rising prices for essentials, systemically high unemployment and stagnant wages. So how does a society deal with the End of Work when it also means The End of Affluence, even for many of those with jobs? How does government deal with declining tax revenues and rising interest rates? The death throes of the debt-based consumerist lifestyle are already visible beneath the glossy propaganda of "rising revenues this Christmas season." The Fed is desperately attempting to re-inflate the debt bubble by lowering interest and mortgage rates and buying up all sorts of semi-toxic/impaired debt. What the Fed dreads is the reality we all feel and see: fear of the future due to diminished wealth and shaky incomes.
The subject of inflation has remained an emotionally charged topic of debate over the last several years. As rising prices for individuals, and businesses, has negatively impacted their prosperity; reported inflation has remained at very low levels. With the Fed pumping trillions of dollars into financial system the fear of much higher inflation, as the dollar is debased, has caused gold prices to soar in recent years. The sole purpose in measuring inflation is to help businesses, individuals and government adjust their financial planning for the impact of inflation. Inflation erodes future purchasing power, and decreases economic prosperity, if not accurately accounted for. The accuracy of measuring inflation, and accounting for it properly, is essential to long term economic prosperity. Shortly after Clinton entered the White House the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) altered the calculation of inflation by changing the weighting of goods in the CPI fixed basket. But the manipulation of the data did not stop there.