Guest Post: 2011 - Catch-22 Year In Review

The Wall Street mantra of stocks for the long run is beginning to get a little stale. If Abbey Joseph Cohen had been right for the last twelve years, the S&P 500 would be 4,000. For this level of accuracy, she is paid millions. Her 2011 prediction of 1,500 only missed by16%. The S&P 500 began the year at 1,258 and hasn’t budged. The lowest prediction from the Wall Street shysters at the outset of the year was 1,333, with the majority between 1,400 and 1,500. The same Wall Street clowns are now being quoted in the mainstream media predicting a 10% to 15% increase in stock prices in 2012, despite the fact we are headed back into recession, China’s property bubble has burst, and Europe teeters on the brink of dissolution. They lie on behalf of their Too Big To Tell the Truth employers by declaring stocks undervalued, when honest analysts such as Jeremy Grantham, John Hussman and Robert Shiller truthfully report that stocks are overvalued and will provide pitiful returns over the next year and the next decade.

Summarizing The Global Balance Sheet's Negative Feedback Loop Of Debt

One of the problems with economic crises is that mainstream economists and financial advisors either don’t see them coming or simply won’t admit to them. That’s exactly what happened in the fall of 2008, when the financial crisis kicked off in the United States. Since that time, governments have continued to spend, all while production has slowed and unemployment has skyrocketed. As we enter the fourth year of the post-crisis environment, there is no sign of growth that is impressive enough to get us out of the negative feedback loop in which governments have continued to operate. A negative feedback loop takes hold when massive government debt loads, a weakening financial system and a slowing economy feed off each other, interrupted by Federal Reserve and other central bank reflationary attempts. As shown in the chart below, rising debts become unsustainable and trigger austerity measures designed to reduce spending and/or increase taxes or other revenue sources to try and reduce debt. The more production and employment falter, the more lending contracts, causing further harm to the economy, missed budgets and higher bond yields. The result is a downward spiral of business and financial activity and a banking crisis usually ensues. Under pressure to stimulate the market, the Federal Reserve and other central banks carryout band aid fixes by printing money and governments implement additional austerity measures which starts the vicious cycle of the feedback loop all over again.  The fix needs to come from a unified front, not just a single country or continent. When we look at the three global pillars of the world economy — the United States, Europe and China — sure, each has its own problems, but each one’s fiscal choices impact the globe as a whole. And really, it’s four pillars when we add the Federal Reserve. We are a four-legged intertwined economic and financial system that relies heavily on each other for banking resources, government debt issuance, investments and exports. The feedback loops are never ending. And when economic growth stalls, debt accumulation increases. Without taking tough, systemic and coordinated economic measures including fiscal consolidation and a commitment by governments to cut rising deficits and reduce what are, in some cases, dangerous levels of national indebtedness, a second crisis may indeed be inevitable. The world is trying to recover from the worst financial crisis in 70-years and is suffering from debts levels not seen in decades and the crisis continues to intensify. And, as the graph below shows, with the exception of Ireland, countries need just as much, if not more, financing to cover debts in 2011 compared to 2010. Nothing has changed.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The LTRO

Banks in weak countries have been issuing debt, getting a government guarantee, and then posting them as collateral at the ECB. There are examples of this for Greek banks for sure, but my understanding is it has also been occurring in Portugal and Ireland. It is the only way banks in Greece (and the other countries) can raise money. It always struck me as a little bizarre, but guess it was done so the ECB could justify lending the money. I always thought it was relatively harmless, and was only adding to the risk of countries that were already in deep trouble – providing a guarantee is NOT riskless. But it appears about €40 billion of yesterday’s LTRO was done by Italian banks that issued bonds to themselves and got a government guarantee, and then posted it to LTRO. So these banks didn’t have any other collateral they could post?  Unicredit has a balance sheet approaching a €TRILLION but they had nothing they could post as ollateral? That seems strange.  Extremely strange. 

1996 UBS Redux: Who Should Have Been In The Euro?

No, it's not Friday and no, it's not a total joke, but UBS' Stephane Deo takes a retrospective look at what his firm's economists were saying back in 1996 about who should be in and who should not be a part of the Euro 'project'. Given the growth and performance of the 'ins', it seems perhaps we should, as Deo says, always pay attention to economists for a happy and prosperous existence but it is somewhat insightful that as far back as the beginning of this experiment, it was relatively clear (in 1996) that proximity to Maastricht rules, political flexibility, and real economic prospects separated the 17 nations, leaving an at-the-time optimal five (or maybe six) nations. There are many yeah-but comments with this look-back, but for sure, it provides a quick-and-dirty view on what these countries looked like before whatever integration they have now, and maybe what they should revert to once again - it is certainly cathartic to see the peripherals already standing so far from the core. The growth differential for the Euro 17 is huge, unmanageable, and symptomatic of an entirely dysfunctional monetary union. The growth difference for the Euro 6 is steady, modest, and entirely manageable.

Guest Post: Worse Than 2008

There are clear signs of a liquidity crunch in the asset markets right now, and the question I keep hearing is, Is this 2008 all over again? No, it’s worse. Much worse. In 2008 there was a lot more faith and optimism upon which to draw. But both have been squandered to significant degrees by feckless regulators and authorities who failed to properly address any of the root causes of the first crisis even as they slathered layer after layer of thin-air money over many of the symptoms. Anyone who has paid attention knows that those "magic potions" proved to be anything but. Not only are the root causes still with us (too much debt, vast regional financial imbalances, and high energy prices), but they have actually grown worse the entire time. As always, we have no idea exactly what is going to happen and when, but we can track the various stresses and strains, noting that more and wider fingers of instability increase the risk of a major event. Heading into 2012, there's enough data to warrant maintaining an extremely cautious stance regarding holding onto one's wealth and increasing one's preparations towards resilience.

2012 Outlook For Gold – Positive Fundamentals Remain And Crucial Diversification


Stock markets globally had a torrid year with the S&P500 down 1.3%, the FTSE down 8% and the CAC and DAX down 19% and 15% respectively. Asian stock markets also fell with the Nikkei down 17%, the Hang Seng 20% and the Shanghai SE down 22%. The MSCI World Index fell 9%. Thus, gold again acted as a safe haven and protected and preserved wealth over the long term. While gold reached record nominal highs at $1,915/oz in August, it is important to continually emphasize that gold remains well below the real high, adjusted for inflation, in 1980 of $2,500/oz. Gold today at $1,625/oz is 18% below the record nominal high of $1915/oz in August 2011. More importantly, gold remains 46% below its real high of $2,500/oz.   Global money supply continued to rise in 2011 and helped push gold prices to all-time highs on the fear of currency debasement. If accommodative monetary policies continue as the dominant tool for central banks, precious metals will almost certainly continue to benefit. Were this trend to turn, responsible monetary policy actions could hinder returns. We see no prospect of this in the short term – and little prospect in the medium term.

You Want The Truth? You CAN Handle The Truth!

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but Europe has finally starting dealing in the truth. Draghi can’t point out the limits of sovereign debt purchases often enough. The EU, usually happy to let completely false rumor after false rumor to drive the markets, took the time to quash the idea of EFSF and ESM being increased in size. Not just, once, but twice, as Merkel has said it on the 13th, and it came out after yesterday’s conference call. They even took the time to point out that they hadn’t been able to agree on 85% agreement. That could easily have been buried or ignored, but yet they chose to highlight it after their call yesterday. Finally, they even went ahead detailing the relatively puny IMF/Central Banks bailout fund. The fund was disappointingly small at €150 billion, rather than the €200 billion that had been expected. The UK is out, but so are Portugal, Ireland, and Greece. Those 3 not being in makes sense, but this is the first time that I can remember that the EU gave us the numbers straight. Usually they would have announced the big number with caveats about various “stepping out countries” and “yet to be ratified” countries. Estonia, which has no debt, is not going to participate. Again, makes sense, but is a step away from the EU making everything sound bigger and grander than in the past.

Deus Ex LTRO

So the market has completely latched on to the idea that LTRO is back-door QE. Does this make any sense and can it even work? So banks can borrow money for up to 3 years from the ECB.  They can buy sovereign bonds with that money.  Those bonds would be posted as collateral at the ECB. The bull case would have banks buying lots of European Sovereign Debt with this program. The purchases would be focused on Italian and Spanish bonds with maturities less than 3 years. Buying bonds with a  maturity longer than the repo facility is risky.  The banks would need to be assured they can roll the debt at the end of the repo period.  Some may be convinced, but the bulk of the purchases will be 3 years and in so that they loans can be repaid with the redemption proceeds. So banks buy the bonds and earn the carry and all is good?  Not so fast. The LTRO can help the banks with their existing funding problems without a doubt, but it is unclear that encourages new bond purchases. I think we have already seen the initial impact.  There will be significant interest in tapping the LTRO for existing positions.  Some small amount of incremental purchases may occur at the time, but the banks will use this to finance existing positions. Now we will wait to see rates do well, but will be disappointed.  The big banks with risk management departments will decide to decline.  The risk/reward just won’t be attractive to them. In the end, this won’t do much for the sovereign debt market, but will shine a spotlight on which banks should be shorted and will possibly expedite their default.

Goldman's Take On TARGET2 And How The Bundesbank Will Suffer Massive Losses If The Eurozone Fails

Two weeks ago in "Has The Imploding European Shadow Banking System Forced The Bundesbank To Prepare For Plan B?" we suggested that according to recent fund flow data, "the Bundesbank wants slowly and quietly out." Out of what? Why the European intertwined monetary mechanism of course, where surplus nations' central bank continue to fund deficit countries' accounts via an ECB intermediary. We speculated that according to the recent ECB proposal, the primary beneficiary of direct ECB intermediation in fund flows, as Draghi has been pushing for past month, would be to disentangle solvent entities like the Bundesbank, allowing it to prepare for D-Day without the shackles of trillions of Euros in deficit capital by virtually all of its counterparties. Today it is the turn of Goldman's Dirk Schumacher to pick up where our argument left off, and to suggest that it is indeed a possibility that the Buba would suffer irreparable consequences as a result of Eurozone implosion, and thus, implicitly, it is Jens Wiedmann's role to accelerate the plan of extracting the Buba from the continent's rapidly unwinding monetary (and fiscal) system. Needless to say, the possibility that a European country can leave at will, as the European Nash Equilibrium finally fails, is something the Bundesbank not only knows all too well, but is actively preparing for: here is what we said on December 6: "we may be experiencing the attempt by the last safe European central bank - Buba - to disintermediate itself from the slow motion trainwreck that is the European shadow banking (first) and then traditional banking collapse (second and last). Because as Lehman showed, it took the lock up of money markets - that stalwart of shadow liabilities - to push the system over the edge, and require a multi-trillion bailout from the true lender of last resort. The same thing is happening now in Europe. And the Bundesbank increasingly appears to want none of it." After all, Germany has been sending the periphery enough messages to where only the most vacuous is not preparing to exit. The question is just how self-serving is Germany being, and whether once Buba is fully disintermediated, Germany will finally push the domino, letting the chips fall where they may?


Bob Janjuah Answers The Six Biggest Questions Heading Into 2012

As Bob Janjuah, of Nomura, notes in his final dissertation of the year, our in-boxes are stuffed with all the good cheer of sell-side research outlooks. However, the bearded bear manages to cut through all the nuance to get to the six questions that need to be addressed in order to see your way successfully in 2012. With the US two-thirds of the way through the post-crisis workout phase while Europe remains only half-way through, and China a mere one-third through the necessary adjustments to less global imbalance, he is not a global uber-bear on every asset class as the net effect is modest global underlying demand and plenty of savings sloshing around looking for a home. The market, though, will have to adjust further to an extended period of weakness in Europe, which will impact EM growth expectations and so the existential ursine strategist is skewing his macro expectations to the downside and with the market pricing a 'softish' global landing, there remains a considerable gap between downside risk potential and current expectations. Furthermore, Janjuah believes the upside is relatively self-limiting on the basis of commodity price pressures and the potential for property or asset bubble bursts - leaving upside limited and downside substantial.