Archives for April 2012

Biderman On The Fed: "They Control The Market, We Play With Their Money"

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

The pastel-wearing President of TrimTabs proffers an entirely non-perfunctory prose explaining why he believes we are now due for a stock market decline. Echoing our thoughts, Charles notes that "It's the Federal Reserve that controls the market, it's their money, they're the boss, we play with their money that they print or stop printing".

Sadly true (especially for all the highly-paid economists and strategists out there), the pre-2009 drivers of equity performance (specifically new or excess savings) are no longer so; since the initial QE1 this has not been the case and providing us with a thoughtful history of equity market valuations relative to the various QE-efforts over the past few years – especially when compared to income growth and/or macro-economic data – provides just the color required to comprehend this essentially a obvious thread of reality that merely  four years ago would have been denigrated to the tin-foil-hat-wearers of the world. Real-time data says that wages and salaries are barely growing above inflation, Europe is a disaster, and the emerging nations are seeing slowing growth; without the Fed's new money where will cash come from to drive stock prices higher?

 

 

And for a little more clarity – here is our overlay of the three stimuli from The Fed so far – showing the similar paths and the April tops in each series… It seems clear now that the self-limiting process of money-creation stalls out in the same periodicity as liquidity spills out into unintended places and 'governs' any real-economy growth expectations via margin compression for corporates (raw materials/energy) or consumer-spending (energy/food)… The similarities in both size and speed of move post Fed stimulus is incredible.

Chart: Bloomberg

Yale’s Shiller: World in a 'Late Great Depression'

The global economy is mired in a "late Great Depression" despite central bank stimulus policies, says Yale economist and author Robert Shiller.

"Our whole economy has been affected by variations in confidence. Central banks are sort of trusted, but the actions they have often affect people’s confidence by appearance rather than substance. We’re not in the most trusting mood now,” Shiller tells CNBC.

The Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England have propped up their respective economies via liquidity injections known as quantitative easing, tools designed to spur recovery but dubbed by critics as printing money out of thin air.

He says the world is in a “new age of austerity.” 

Keep reading:  Yale’s Shiller: World in a 'Late Great Depression'.

Stiglitz – Politics Is At the Root of the Problem

Courtesy of Jesse's Cafe Americain 

Where Stiglitz refers to 'free markets' here, he means the 'efficient markets hypothesis.' That is, if markets are left entirely to their own devices they will manage themselves, honestly and efficiently.

Government and regulation are the problem, and they distort markets. Therefore if you 'free' markets from the influence of imperfect supervision, the natural efficiency of the market will prevail. 

This model of the markets assumes that most market participants, people, are naturally good and almost perfectly rational, that information disperses equally among those participants, and that fraud becomes quickly known to all and is shunned, so that no participant will be encouraged to engage in it. 

One of the things that will be reconsidered in the aftermath of this crisis, besides the perennial tendency of academic theories to act as handmaidens to thugs and gangsterism, is how to maintain a market based economy with effective regulation, so that when the unscrupulous come to tear down the protections erected by previous generations, to lure the foolish and gullible with their siren songs of progress and freedom, they might be seen for what they really are: the old familiar frauds come back to rob again.

I am a strong believer in a market based economy, where the rules encourage fairness and transparency, and decision making is broadly dispersed amongst a large number of well-informed participants.  Monopolies, corruption and fraud are inimical to such a system.  

An excess of planning and regulation, on the other hand, leads to a concentration of power in few hands, which is a form of monopoly or cartel which is the same abuse that occurs with too little transparency and regulation.  

It takes hard work and an alert public to maintain the balance of justice, and it is hardly natural.   For the affairs of all men do not naturally tend to virtue, alas, but from a minority of the lawless there is the tendency to selfish and short term thinking, and entropy from temptation, and the concentration of power in unworthy hands.  

Such is the tendency of the world as it is, not naturally good, but imperfect and fallen.  And this is not only the theme, but the force of history, the recorded actions of people,  the continuing struggle between moderation and excess, between good and evil.  Without it, history would be merely the progression of happiness and contentment, and that is not the condition of this world, but of the next.
 

Cross Posted from The European 

"Politics Is at the Root of the Problem" 

 
The European: Four years after the beginning of the financial crisis, are you encouraged by the ways in which economists have tried to make sense of it, and by the ways in which those insights have been taken up by policy makers?

Stiglitz: Let me break this down in a slightly different way. Academic economists played a big role in causing the crisis. Their models were overly simplified, distorted, and left out the most important aspects. Those faulty models then encouraged policy-makers to believe that the markets would solve all the problems. Before the crisis, if I had been a narrow-minded economist, I would have been very pleased to see that academics had a big impact on policy. But unfortunately that was bad for the world. After the crisis, you would have hoped that the academic profession had changed and that policy-making had changed with it and would become more skeptical and cautious. You would have expected that after all the wrong predictions of the past, politics would have demanded from academics a rethinking of their theories. I am broadly disappointed on all accounts.

The European: Economists have seen the flaws of their models but have not worked to discard or improve them?

Stiglitz: Within academia, those who believed in free markets before the crisis still do so today. A few people have shifted, and I want to give credit to them for saying: “We were wrong. We underestimated this or that aspect of our models.” But for the most part, the response was different. Believers in the free market have not revised their beliefs.

The European: So let’s take a longer view. Do you think that the crisis will have an effect on future generations of economists and policy-makers, for example by changing the way that economic basics are taught? 

Stiglitz: I think that change is really occurring with the young people. My young students overwhelmingly don’t understand how people could have believed in the old models. That is good. But on the other hand, many of them say that if you want to be an economist, you still have to deal with all the old guys who believe in their wrong theories, who teach those theories, and expect you to believe in them as well. So they choose not to go into those branches of economics. But where I have been even more disappointed is American policy-making. Ben Bernanke gives a speech and says something like, there was nothing wrong with economic theory, the problems were a few details in implementation. In fact, there was a lot wrong with economic theory and with the basic policy framework that was derived from theory. If your mindset is that nothing was wrong, you will not demand new models. That’s a big disappointment.

The European: There seemed to have been quite a bit of disagreement among Obama’s economic advisers about the right course of action. And in Europe, fundamental economic principles like the absolute focus on GDP growth have finally come under attack. 

Stiglitz: Some American policy-makers have recognized the danger of “too big to fail,” but they are a minority. In Europe, things are a bit better on the rhetorical side. Influential economists like Derek Turner and Mervyn King have recognized that something is wrong. The Vickers Commission has thoughtfully re-examined economic policy. We have nothing like that in the United States. In Germany and France, the financial transactions tax and limits to executive compensation are on the table. Sarkozy says that capitalism hasn’t worked, Merkel says that we were saved by the European social model – and they are both conservative politicians! The bankers still don’t understand this, which explains why we still see the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, arguing that we have to give up the welfare system at a time when Merkel says the exact opposite: That the social model kept us going when the central banks failed to do their regulatory job and used politics to change the nature of our societies.

The European: How have your own convictions been affected by the crisis? 

Stiglitz: I don’t think that there has been a fundamental change in my thinking. The crisis has reinforced certain things I said before and shown me how important they are. In 2003, I wrote about the risk of interdependence, where the collapse of one bank can bring about the collapse of other banks and increase the fragility of the banking system. I thought it was important, but the idea wasn’t picked up at the time. The same year we looked at agency problems in finance. Now we recognize just how important those issues are. I argued that the real issue in monetary economics is about credit, not money supply. Now everybody recognizes that the collapse of the credit system brought down the banks. (I don't agree, the collapse of the credit system was a symptom not a cause.  It was the fraudulent paper, and the subsequent insolvency it promoted, that collapsed confidence which is the foundation of credit – Jesse)  So the crisis really validated and reinforced several strands of theory that I had explored before. One topic that I now consider much more important than I did previously is the question of adjustment and the role of exchange rate systems like the Euro in preventing economic adjustment. A related issues is the linkage between structural adjustment and macroeconomic activity. The events of the crisis have really induced me to think more about them.

The European: The financial transaction tax seems to have died a political death in Europe. Now, economic policy in Europe seems largely dominated by the logic of austerity, and by forcing other European countries to become more like Germany.

 Stiglitz: Austerity itself will almost surely be disastrous. It is leading to a double-dip recession that could be quite serious. It will probably make the Euro crisis worse. The short-term consequences are going to be very bad for Europe. But the broader issue is about the “German model.” There are many aspects to it – among them the social model – that allow Germany to weather a very big dip in GDP by offering high levels of social protection. The German model of vocational training is also very successful. But there are other characteristics that are not so good. Germany is an export economy, but that cannot be true for all countries. If some countries have export surpluses, they are forcing other countries to have export deficits. Germany has taken a policy that other countries cannot imitate and tried to apply it to Europe in a way that contributes to Europe’s problems. The fact that some aspects of the German model are good does not mean that all aspects can be applied across Europe.

The European: And it does not mean that economic growth satisfied the criteria of social fairness. 

Stiglitz: Yes, so there is one other thing we have to take into account: What is happening to most citizens in a country? When you look at America, you have to concede that we have failed. Most Americans today are worse off than they were fifteen years ago. A full-time worker in the US is worse off today than he or she was 44 years ago. That is astounding – half a century of stagnation. The economic system is not delivering. It does not matter whether a few people at the top benefitted tremendously – when the majority of citizens are not better off, the economic system is not working. We also have to ask of the German system whether it has been delivering. I haven’t studied all the data, but my impression is no.

The European: What do you say to someone who argues thus: Demographic change and the end of the industrial age have made the welfare state financially unsustainable. We cannot expect to cut down on our debt without fundamentally reducing welfare costs in the long run.

Stiglitz: That is absurd. The question of social protection does not have to do with the structure of production. It has to do with social cohesion or solidarity. That is why I am also very critical of Draghi’s argument at the European Central Bank that social protection has to be undone. There are no grounds upon which to base that argument. The countries that are doing very well in Europe are the Scandinavian countries. Denmark is different from Sweden, Sweden is different from Norway – but they all have strong social protection and they are all growing. The argument that the response to the current crisis has to be a lessening of social protection is really an argument by the 1% to say: “We have to grab a bigger share of the pie.” But if the majority of people don’t benefit from the economic pie, the system is a failure. I don’t want to talk about GDP anymore, I want to talk about what is happening to most citizens.

The European: Has the political Left been able to articulate that criticism?

Stiglitz: Paul Krugman has been very strong on articulating criticism of the austerity arguments. The broader attack has been made, but I am not sure whether it has been fully heard. The critical question right now is how we grade economic systems. It hasn’t been fully articulated yet but I think we will win this one. Even the Right is beginning to agree that GDP is not a good measure of economic progress. The notion of the welfare of most citizens is almost a no-brainer.  (Median is the message. – Jesse)

The European: It seems to me that much of the discussion is still about statistical measurements – if we’re not measuring GDP, we’re measuring something else, like happiness or income differences. But is there an element to these discussions that cannot be put in numerical terms – something about the values we implicitly bake into our economic system?

Stiglitz: In the long run, we ought to have those ethical discussions. But I am beginning from a much narrower base. We know that income doesn’t reflect many things we care about. But even with an imperfect indicator such as income, we should care about what happens to most citizens. It’s nice that Bill Gates is doing well. But if all the money went to Bill Gates, the system could not be graded as successful.

The European: If the political Left hasn’t been able to fully articulate that idea, has civil society been able to fill the gap? 

Stiglitz: Yes, the Occupy movement has been very successful in bringing those ideas to the forefront of political discussion. I wrote an article for Vanity Fair in 2011 – “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” – that really resonated with a lot of people because it spoke to our worries. Protests like the ones at Occupy Wall Street are only successful when they pick up on these shared concerns. There was one newspaper article that described the rough police tactics in Oakland. They interviewed many people, including police officers, who said: “I agree with the protesters.” If you ask about the message, the overwhelming response has been supportive, and the big concern has been that the Occupy movement hasn’t been effective enough in getting that message across.

The European: How do we move from talking about economic inequality to tangible change? As you said earlier, the theoretical recognition of economic problems has often not been translated into policy. 

Stiglitz: If my forecast about the consequences of austerity is correct, you will see a new round of protest movements. We had a crisis in 2008. We are now in the fifth year of crisis, and we haven’t solved it. There’s not even a light at the end of the tunnel. When we come to that conclusion, the discourse will change.

The European: The situation needs to be really bad before it will get better? 

Stiglitz: Yes, I fear.

The European: You recently wrote about the “irreversible decay” of the American Midwest. Is this crisis a sign that the US has begun an irreversible economic decline, even while we still regard the country as a potent political player?

Stiglitz: We are facing a very difficult transition from manufacturing to a service economy. We have failed to manage that transition smoothly. If we don’t correct that mistake, we will pay a very high price. Already, the average American is suffering from the failed transition. My concern is that we have set in motion an adverse economics and an adverse politics. A lot of American inequality is caused by rent-seeking: Monopolies, military spending, procurement, extractive industries, drugs. We have some economic sectors that are very good, but we also have a lot of parasites. The hopeful view is that the economy can grow if we rid ourselves of the parasites and focus on the productive sectors. But in any disease there is always the risk that the parasites will devour the healthy body parts. The jury is still out on that.

The European: Have we at least understood the disease well enough to prescribe the correct therapy? Especially with regard to policy-making and the Euro crisis, there seems to be a lot of shooting into the dark. 

Stiglitz: I think the problem is not a lack of understanding by dispassionate social scientists. We know the basic dilemma, and we know the effect of campaign contributions on policy-makers. So we are facing a vicious circle: Because money matters in politics, that leads to outcomes in which money matters in society, which increases the role of money in politics. You have more gerrymandering and more disillusionment with parliamentary politics.

The European: Has politics become too focused on outcomes, and is it not sensitive enough to the processes that lead to those outcomes? The bedrock of democracy seems to hinge on the avenues for participation, not on the effectiveness of particular policies. 

Stiglitz: Let me put it this way: Some people criticize by saying that we have become too focused on inequality and are not concerned enough about opportunity. But in the United States, we are also the country with the biggest inequality of opportunity. Most Americans understand that fraud political processes play in fraud outcomes. But we don’t know how to break into that system. Our Supreme Court was appointed by moneyed interests and – not surprisingly – concluded that moneyed interests had unrestricted influence on politics. In the short run, we are exacerbating the influence of money, with negative consequences for the economy and for society.

The European: Where is change rooted? In parliament? In academia? In the streets? 

Stiglitz: You look in the streets and a little bit in academia as well. When I say that the major thrust of the economics profession has disappointed me, I need to qualify that statement. There have been groups that push new economic thinking and challenge the old models.

The European: You have written that the challenge is to respond to bad ideas not with rejection but with better ideas. Where is the longest and strongest lever to bring new economic thinking into the realm of policy? 

Stiglitz: The diagnosis is that politics is at the root of the problem: That is where the rules of the game are made, that is where we decide on policies that favor the rich and that have allowed the financial sector to amass vast economic and political power. The first step has to be political reform:Change campaign finance laws. Make it easier for people to vote – in Australia, they even have compulsory voting. Address the problem of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering makes it so that your vote doesn’t count. If it does not count, you are leaving it to moneyed interests to push their own agenda. Change the filibuster, which turned from a barely used congressional tactic into a regular feature of politics. It disempowers Americans. Even if you have a majority vote, you cannot win.

The European: We’re looking at six months of presidential campaigning. The role of money has been embraced by both parties. Campaign finance reform seems rather unlikely. 

Stiglitz: Even the Republicans have become more aware of the power of money by seeing how it influenced and distorted the primaries. The outcomes are not what the Republican party establishment had hoped for. The disaster is becoming clear – but that will not lead to immediate remedies. Those who become elected depend on that money. It will require a strong third party or civil society to do something about this.
 

Akamai and NetEase for Bargain Hunters (& A Significant Insider Buy)

By Declan Fallon

Tech news for this week was dominated by Apple's earnings. Apple's staggering 35 million iPhone sales in Q2 offered a major shot in the arm after an unusual – for Apple – drift in its share price.  Estimize consensus was looking for an iPad driven quarter which probably means Apple has kept this one in the bag for later! The 'feel good' factor of its earnings extended into the broader market when Tech stocks enjoyed a moment in the sun.

However, two Tech stocks brought to my attention from the crew at HCPG were Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM) and NetEase (NASDAQ: NTES).  Unfortunately, Akamai took a major hit on earnings after a strong seven months, but this may not be the killer it might otherwise be. While NetEase has been steadily climbing since breaking past its $50 overhang and is currently pressuring $60, although recent trading volume has been light.

Akamai is an interesting beast. Monday's earnings focused on its lower-than-expected Q2 guidance which overshadowed its positive Q1 results. The earnings pattern may mirror 2011, which if treated as expected will surprise if the company reports a stronger quarter-on-quarter. Executive departures have added another layer of uncertainty into the mix which has pushed the stock into the 'unwanted' category, but is this opinion justified?

Keep reading: Akamai and NetEase for Bargain Hunters – AKAM, NTES – Foolish Blogging Network.

According to Insider Cow: 

LEIGHTON F THOMSON, director officer (Chief Scientist) of AKAM recorded the purchase of 100,000 shares of AKAM at $33.14 (total of $3,314,000) today. 

Illinois Borrowing Costs Rise by 22.5%, Expect Conditions to Worsen; Sideline Cash Nonsense From Nuveen

Illinois Borrowing Costs Rise by 22.5%, Expect Conditions to Worsen; Sideline Cash Nonsense From Nuveen

Courtesy of Mish

Illinois borrowing costs are poised to rise about 22.5%. The nominal increase is about .34 percentage points as reported by Bloomberg.

 Illinois plans to sell $1.8 billion of general-obligation debt tomorrow as its relative borrowing costs may increase by almost a quarter.

The tax-exempt deal for the state, rated lowest by Moody’s Investors Service, includes a 10-year segment that underwriter Jefferies & Co. plans to offer to investors at 1.85 percentage points above benchmark AAA securities, according to a person familiar with the sale.

Illinois’s last general-obligation sale was on March 13 for $575 million, with 10-year securities priced to yield 1.51 percentage points above benchmark tax-exempts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s 0.34 percentage points below tomorrow’s tentative pricing plan, or a difference of 22.5 percent.

The state has the lowest-funded pension in the U.S., with assets equal to 45.5 percent of projected obligations, Bloomberg data show. Its backlog of unpaid bills to vendors and Medicaid obligations is more than $9 billion.

Investors should get more yield than 1.85 percentage points given those fiscal challenges, John Mousseau, a portfolio manager at Vineland, New Jersey-based Cumberland Advisors, which has $1.2 billion of municipal debt. It doesn’t own Illinois general-obligation bonds.

“The state’s debt should be trading even cheaper,” Mousseau wrote in a report released today. “At some point it is a buy. Not yet.”

More Sideline Cash Nonsense 

I side with Mousseau expecting much higher yields.

However, Tom Spaulding at Nuveen Investments Inc. in Chicago says “With a lot of cash out there, I just don’t see it having a problem getting done at these levels, and can probably get done a little bit better,” he said.

Pray tell where is that cash that Spaulding speaks of? Certainly corporations like Apple have a lot of it, but most of that alleged "cash" is nothing but debt on the balance sheets of corporations.  Sorry Tom, but counting cash that is spoken for is simply wrong.

There is also $1.5 trillion of excess reserves at the Fed. However, those reserves, have an associated liability as well. Even if that was not the case there would be a problem of duration match. Do investors want to load up on Illinois debt at 1.85% for 10 years.

Nuveen might, but that does not make it an intelligent thing to do. I see no value here at all.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

Why the U.S. Dollar is Critical for the S&P 500 Index this Week

Why the U.S. Dollar is Critical for the S&P 500 Index this Week

BY 

Unfortunately I was sick the past few weeks and I am just now getting back into the swing of things. Similar to the demand pull that the warmer than usual spring has had on macroeconomic data, the warmer spring caused me to have an earlier than usual sinus infection as well as some horrific allergies. I suppose I am pushing it a bit far when I am comparing my health concerns to economic data, but alas I fly my nerd flag proudly.

Recently I have been advising members of my service to be cautious as the market appears to be at a major crossroads. The U.S. Dollar Index is on the verge of a major breakdown. If a breakdown occurs it will be clear that the Federal Reserve will have officially stopped any potential rise in the U.S. Dollar. Over the past few months the Dollar has been producing a series of higher highs and higher lows, however the current cycle may break the pattern as can be seen below.

If the U.S. Dollar pushes down below the recent lows and we get continuation to the downside, we will break the recent bullish pattern. Furthermore, if the Dollar starts to weaken it should benefit equities and other risk assets such as oil. Higher energy prices would not be long term bullish for equity markets so there is concern if the Dollar really starts to extend lower.

However, if the Dollar finds a bottom and rallies it clearly would create a headwind for equities. We should know whether we have a major breakdown on the daily chart in the next few weeks. Until then, the Dollar could go either way and obviously the price action in the Dollar will have a major impact on risk assets and stock market returns in the near future.

From a macroeconomic viewpoint, risk assets such as the S&P 500 Index could be in trouble in the months ahead. U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) came in lower than expected with revisions likely in the near future. Unemployment claims appear to have bottomed and are rising week after week even though the major media fails to report it appropriately as it would appear that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has stumped media pundits with data revisions.

Additionally, there are two other macroeconomic data points which need to be mentioned. The Citigroup Economic Surprise Index has moved below zero and is showing a negative reading. This index is generally a leading indicator regarding equity prices and the recent decline shown below is problematic for the bullish case.

Chart Courtesy of Morgan Stanley

As can be seen above, fundamental data is starting to skew towards the downside which is likely a result of the recession that is in the process of developing over in Europe and potentially in China. Time will tell if the index can reverse, but the bulls need to see a major reversal in the near future.

The chart below illustrates the relationship between metal prices and industrial productivity. Demand for metal increases when economies are expanding and prices generally contract when economies retract. The chart below demonstrates global metal demand. The chart speaks for itself.

Chart Courtesy of Morgan Stanley

Clearly if industrial production contracts (reduction in Global Manufacturing PMI) the impact on the global economy will be felt across multiple countries’ economies. The chart below illustrates the MSCI World Index compared to global manufacturing PMI. Similarly to the chart above, this chart also tells a significant story about what investors and traders should expect if the PMI numbers come in light   against expectations.

Chart Courtesy of Morgan Stanley

As quoted from the zerohedge.com article entitled What do Metal Prices Tell us About the Future of the Stock Market, “In other words, for those who still believe in logical, causal relationships (even in a time of ubiquitous central planning) unless something drastically changes to push fundamental demand of metals higher, one could say the the outlook for equities is not good.”

Essentially, the data shown above is certainly not bullish in the intermediate to longer term. However, it generally takes time for macroeconomic data to permeate all the way through to equity markets. For right now, the story regarding global growth is at the very least questionable based on the data illustrated above.

In the short term anything is seemingly possible. The S&P 500 Index closed above the key 1,400 price level on Friday. I would not be shocked to see prices extend up to the recent highs near 1,420. Ultimately I think we are in a long term topping formation that might require another higher high up to around 1,440 before we see a deeper correction.

The past few weeks have produced a very mild correction compared to the monster rally we have seen since October of 2011. This is a bullish signal, but we need to see prices continue higher and climb a serious “wall of worry” that is coming out of a variety of places. The European situation continues to worsen overall and we have lower than expected GDP numbers in the US paired with concerns about growth in China.

The S&P 500 has some negative headlines to deal with, but so far it has been able to shrug off poor economic data and we could see an extension higher that would shake out the shorts and run stops above the recent highs. However a move lower remains possible. The daily chart of the S&P 500 illustrates the recent correction and the 1,420 highs.

I believe that the next few weeks are going to be critical and the S&P 500 may trade in a consolidation zone between recent lows and the 1,420 highs while traders await more economic data. Fundamental data is starting to indicate that a slow down may be beginning. In contrast, the topping pattern that we appear to be carving out may require higher prices to suck in more longs before moving into a deeper correction.

In the short run, the Dollar will likely hold clues regarding the immediate future for risk assets. However, the longer term picture for equities is quite murky based on the economic data points we are seeing paired with additional concerns stemming from the European sovereign debt crisis. Right now I am looking at time decay based strategies in the near term and will likely stay away from directional biased trades. I would urge readers to be cautious regardless of which direction they favor.

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Excerpt From 'Debt Generation' – We Are All Kettled Now

Courtesy of Jesse's Cafe Americain

We Are All Kettled Now

For anyone who has never been ‘kettled’ it is when the police at a protest suddenly close ranks and refuse to let anyone leave. You suddenly find you are held against your wishes. The police will not explain why, and they won’t allow any exceptions. You suddenly have no control over what is happening, and no discussion is permitted. A decision made by someone you have never seen now exerts complete and total control over your life. 

We are all in that position now.
 
So vast is the debt our government has burdened us with that this one fact will now determine most of the politics of the next decade. Other hopes and desires – the wish for better schools, a better health service, better care for the elderly – will wither in the shadow of the debt repayments. If we are forced to pay back from taxes all the vast sums that have been sucked out of public spending and given to the banks, the country will not recover for a generation.
 
The economic ‘plans’, forced on us without debate, are all based on the banks returning large parts of the money they have taken from us. This means, whether we like it or not, we all have to hope that the banks make profits as quickly as possible. We have all been ‘kettled’ into having to hope and work for the largest possible growth in world trade and finance. We have to hope that the rich get richer, and quickly. The lords of finance and their servants in politics decided this for us.
 
There never was any discussion or debate of possible alternatives when the financial crisis began. It was declared, and universally agreed (always a bad sign) that the problem was liquidity, not solvency. That meant the only answer ever proposed was to provide liquidity at all costs. Liquidity being our money to cover the massive losses they had incurred. This, we were told, wasn’t really a cost at all, but ‘an investment’. An investment which would pay back all the loaned, borrowed and printed money long before the debts came due through reinflated levels of growth and asset value.
 
That was, and is, their only plan. And so absolute is the certainty in the minds of all concerned that none of them can even conceive of looking beyond the closed circle of that logic. No counter-argument is allowed or taken seriously. No warning signs are read as such.
 
Their so-called ‘free market’ has seized control and locked us in to a course of action in which democratic choice has been foreclosed. The growing realisation that this is what is happening will bring about increased anger. The smug reaction to anger is to label it ‘mindless’. The mindless anger of the ignorant who don't understand the necessary steps being taken by those who know better. That is the boiled down assumption of all our leaders, all the economic experts and most economic journalists.
 
The truth is quite different. People like me are angry because exactly the same people who, in 2008, assumed they knew how to run the global economy still assume they, and only they, know what must be done now. And their prescription is as simple as it is arrogant: put it back they way it was.
We are told that the debts accrued by those in charge must be paid by us rather than honoured by them. No debate.
 
We are told we must get lending back to the old levels. No debate.
We are told we must get the consumer consuming again rather than saving. No debate.
We are told that we must agree and complete the Doha round of global free trade liberalization. No debate.
 
To be robbed is one thing: to be condescended to by the people who robbed you is another altogether.
That is why many people like me are angry. We are angry because the financial elite are shoving their ideology down our throats. We are angry because we might have wanted to have a say. We are angry because we had different ideas that were never even considered.
 
Here we are at the point in history when many of us are looking at the imminent threats of climate change and oil scarcity, clearly seeing the dangers of unbridled growth, and yet at this point democratic choice has been kettled. No debate.
 
And that is why this crisis is no longer just about lack of confidence in the markets: it is now about the legitimacy of our governments. The entire political class has been captured by the same ideology. They all, to one extent or another, believe ‘the market’ is going to save us. No other solutions have even been allowed into the debate.
 
We shouldn’t waste our time arguing over which party is most to blame. All the parties and the economists and the City boys all agreed, and they still do. In their minds the banks had to be bailed out and their losses made ours. We were taken to war without discussion and on false pretences; the same has happened with this financial crisis. So enough of who is to blame: they all were and are.
 
They all believe in a system that says we must create demand and then feed it with debt. This necessarily involves increasing demand by the creation of yet more debt. It always crashes and always will. That is how their system works. If we allow it to be the solution, it will create another crash and another. Each time the rich will reap profits on the way up and rape the public purse on the way down. It's win, win for them and lose, lose for us. 

Plus ça change!

Debt Generation – By David Malone 

Capitalism Without Failure: Bill Black: The Fraud Recipe for CEO's…

Bill Black: The Fraud Recipe for CEO's, Why Banks Hate Free Markets and Love Crony Capitalism, and the Dysmal Legacy of Mainstream Economists

Via Capitalism Without Failure

The selected notes below are from William K. Black's presentation at the Modern Monetary Theory Summit in Rimini, Italy, in Febuary of this year.  The audio is embedded in this post following the text. 

On the "technocrats" running the show in Europe: There are no 'technocrats,' especially ‘genius’ technocrats.  I suggest a new rule of thumb for judging a 'genius technocrat.'  They have to be right at least two out of ten times.  There is not a single economist in Europe, who calls himself a technocrat, that could do the equivalent of making two penalty kicks out of ten.

What we learned from the Savings & Loan crisisGeorge Santayana famously said that, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But, even if we remember the mistakes we have made, the new policy we pick could be another mistake.  Here is what we learned about the incidence of fraud leading up to the savings and loan crisis, according to the national commission that investigated the causes of that crisis:

"'The typical large failure [grew] at an extremely rapid rate, achieving high concentrations of assets in risky ventures… [E]very accounting trick available was used… Evidence of fraud was invariably present, as was the ability of the operators to 'milk' the organisation.' 
On Control Fraud: Control fraud occurs when the person who controls a seemingly legitimate entity uses it as a weapon to defraud.  In finance, accounting is the weapon of choice.  These accounting frauds cause greater losses than all other property crimes combined, yet economists never talk about it.

On the danger Control Frauds pose to society: When many of these frauds occur in the same area, they hyperinflate financial bubbles, which is what causes financial crises and mass unemployment.  It makes the CEOs wealthy, produces Balzac scandals, and destroys democracy.

On how perverse incentives encourage fraud: Perverse incentives produce criminogenic environments that encourage fraud. When people are able to steal a lot of money, with no threat of imprisonment, nor having to live in disgrace, an environment conducive to fraud is established.  Establishing such an environment in practice requires the 3 D's: Deregultation, Desupervision, and de facto Decriminalization. Deregulation: you get rid of the rules.  Desupervision: any rules that remain, you do not enforce.  Decriminalisation: even if you sometimes sue the perpetrators and get a fine, you do not put them in prison.  

On the ideal perverse incentives for accounting fraud: Accounting fraud thrives most with really high pay based on short-term reported income with no way to claw it back -even when it proves to be a lie.  Also helpful is for assets to not have a readily verifiable market-value; this makes it easy to inflate the asset prices and easy to hide real losses.  For a true epidemic of fraud, it is also helpful to have easy entry into the industry.

Keep reading: Capitalism Without Failure: Bill Black: The Fraud Recipe for CEO's, Why Banks Hate Free Markets and Love Crony Capitalism, and the Dysmal Legacy of Mainstream Economists.

Dallas Fed Plunges Negative. Biggest Miss In 10 Months

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

While the Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index tends to be a little less of a headline-maker  than many of its macro-data peers, today's dismal report is worth paying attention to. The index turned negative for the first time this year, dropped to its lowest level in 7 months and missed expectations by the largest amount in 10 months. The drop from +10.8 to -3.4 is also the largest sequential drop in 11 months. Only the inventories sub-index rose (hardly a bright spot) as Production, Number of Employees, New Orders, and Capacity Utilization all plunged and the average workweek fell for the first time in months. The US decoupling myth continues to come apart at the seams and the likelihood of more easing (extreme or not) seems to be rising by the day – because that has worked so well in the past.

Chart: Bloomberg

The New-Normal Class Warfare: Old vs Young?

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

While the most commonly held perspective on the aging demographic in the US is a retiring Boomer generation that is increasingly risk-averse (rotating to fixed income) and in desperate need of a growing segment of the healthcare pie, it appears that this may not be the entire picture. The data shows, via UBS Larry Hatheway, that in fact asset preferences do not change much by age cohort and therefore is not the driving reason behind a secular rotation out of stocks per se (as opposed to more simple reasons such as mistrust) and more notably the perception of an increased longevity could actually incentivize older investors to extend investment horizons (whether in stocks or fixed income). There does, however, remain a clear correlation (intuitive rather than causal if one is splitting hairs) between equity valuations (P/E ratios) and the older cohort (implying expectations of dropping equity valuations). Critically though, it appears from the data that older investors are not more risk averse. There is one further issue that is quietly emerging and that is US fertility data which points to an 'eventual' rejuvenation of US society – which could eventually shift the demographic influence back in the opposite direction. The simple take-away is that while old people continue to desperately cling to wealth preservation in their longer-than-expected lives, with their notably higher-than-average net worths, there will be an increasing pressure to stealthily tax part the aged of their wealth to cover the costs of a growing and even more state-dependent youth demographic that is emerging. Forget the 99% versus the 1%, it appears the new and more clearly-defined class warfare could well be the old versus the young.

There remains a clear correlation between the older cohort of the population and equity valuations (P/E ratios) suggesting a falling equity valuation regime is currently occurring…

"Income tends to be correlated with equity returns, so that in periods of high equity volatility the uncertainty of future income also increases. Taking this into account suggests that working investors should hedge their income volatility by shorting rather than buying equities."

But as opposed to conventional wisdom, it appears the older cohort is more more risk averse as they hold on to their investments on perceptions of increased life-expectancy dominating patterns perhaps…

But the fertility rate continues to rise – outpacing the older cohort even with its increased life-expectancy – putting inevitable pressure on the state to cover more-dependent younger cohorts over time…

 

and where to get that much-needed additional funding to cover the costs of the younger demographic? Well, the older cohort dominates net worth and seems the most obvious place to start…

As UBS summarizes, although much discussion of US demographics is drawn to the ageing of the baby boomers, that focus ignores another important fact about US population dynamics. Specifically, the US fertility rate (defined as the number of children per woman) has been rising steadily for three decades and is now above 2. That suggests that the conventional wisdom of an America growing ever older may not be right, at least at more distant horizons. The demographic hump of baby boomers will move into the tail of the age distribution and the distortion created by the post-war spike in fertility rates will fade. In short, demographic change, as important as it may be, could also prove to be transitory as longer-run factors determining population growth change.

Hugh Hendry is Back – Full Eclectica Letter

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

Hugh Hendry is back with a bang after a two year hiatus with what so many have been clamoring for, for so long – another must read letter from one of the true (if completely unsung) visionary investors of our time: "I have not written to you at any great length since the winter of 2010. This is largely because not much has happened to change our views. We still see the global economy as grotesquely distorted by the presence of fixed exchange rates, the unraveling of which is creating financial anarchy, just as it did in the 1920s and 1930s. Back then the relevant fixes were around the gold standard. Today it is the dual fixed pricing regimes of the euro countries and of the dollar/renminbi peg."

In the letter the most surprising insight from the perpetual contrarian is his almost predictable contrary view of the dominant investing meme at the moment. To wit: "We are, as a result, long the debt saddled west and short the vastly over vaunted and over owned BRICs." More on this: "There is a near consensus that China will supplant America this decade. We do not believe this. We are more bullish on US growth than most. The momentous nature of recent advances in shale oil and gas extraction and America's acceptance of the unpleasantness of debt and labour price restructuring looks to us as if it is creating yet another historic turning point. By embracing his inadequacies and leaping on his luck, the strong man may have finally broken the binds that had previously held him back. We are also more pessimistic on Chinese growth than ever. This makes us bearish on most Asian stocks, bearish on industrial commodity prices, interested in some US stocks, a seller of high variance equities and deeply concerned that Japan could become the focal point of the next global leg down. On the plus side we also believe that we are much closer than before to the beginning of a bull market of perhaps 1982, if not 1932, proportions. We just need the last shoe to drop."

We will let readers combs through the narrative that shapes Hendry's most recent outlook, although one chart worth pointing out is The Eclectica boss' visual summary of the "New Economic Order" which presents precisely the tenuous relationship between the Fed and the PBOC we have been decrying for so long, and which so many commentators (ooh, ooh, the PBOC is easing any minute now… oh wait, it isn't) fail to grasp:

Yet one thing we do want to point out is how different compared to your run off the mill 2 and 20 rent collector is the Eclectica M.O. when it comes to generating Alpha (as opposed to everyone else's levered beta):

As you know, I have a proclivity to make money in a bear market. The Fund's ten-year NAV progression demonstrates this survivorship bias; when bad things have happened, we have made money. We are very robust. Last year was no exception. Despite the challenges confronting speculators, I am much relieved that we succeeded in making 12% in a rather disciplined manner, and the Fund has now posted a CAGR of almost 10% for the last nine years.

Maybe that was the easy bit. The question now is just how we can make money in the tough business of global macro investing this year. As I am sure you by now know, I am nothing but a worrier. I have, I think, a soul mate in the prolific but often misunderstood Italian soccer player Pippo Inzaghi, the second highest scorer in all European club competitions. He has 70 goals behind him but he recently noted that, “the tension is always the same…I hoped to become less agitated with time, but this is also my strength”. I suspect he would have made a fine macro manager.

I meet a lot of inquisitive and extremely intelligent people in this business and I have come to think that maybe this is something of a problem. Perhaps they are just too smart. Perhaps they just try too hard. Rightly or wrongly, the highest return on intellectual capital of any endeavour in the world today comes from the management of other people’s money. So it is entirely rational (especially if you have never met a hedge fund manager) to assume the industry attracts the brightest, smartest minds. The beautiful mind, if you will. But I am not aiming to outsmart George, Stan, Julian, Bruce or the others. I do not think it is logical to try and outsmart the smartest people. Instead, my weapons are irony and paradox. The joy of life is partly in the strange and unexpected. It is in the constant exclamation "Who would have thought it?"

Why did ten year treasuries yield 14% under the vice like grip of iron-man Volker but yield just 1.8% under the bookish and most definitely Weimar-like Bernanke? Why does France in 2012 flirt with the notion of electing a socialist president intent on reducing the retirement age, imposing a top rate of tax of 75% and increasing the size of the public sector? Why do we hang on the every word of elected politicians when Luxembourg’s prime minister Jean Claude Junker openly admits, "When it becomes serious, you have to lie"?

You cannot make stuff like this up. It is simply too absurd.

That is perhaps a long way of saying that existentialism is alive and well in the 21st century. For, if the last ten years have taught me anything, it must be that the French philosopher Albert Camus, in his search for an understanding of the principals of ethics that can shape and form our behaviour, may have surreptitiously provided us with three basic principles for macro investing. I am perhaps doing him a gross injustice, but I would summarise as follows: God is dead, life is absurd and there are no rules. In other words, you are on your own and you must take ownership of your own destiny.

For me this has always meant being detached from the sell-side community. It is not a question of respect, it is just that I prefer not to engage in their perpetual dialogue of determining where the “flow" is. I cannot be reached by telephone. I suspect that I am one of the few CIOs who does not maintain daily correspondence with investment bankers and their specialist hedge fund sales teams. Not one buddy, not one phone call, not one instant message. I am not seeking that kind of "edge.” Eclectica occupies an area outside the accepted belief system.

I attempt to cultivate my own insights and to recognise the precarious uncertainty of global macro trends. I attempt to observe such things first hand through my extensive travel (I promise no more YouTube videos), and seek to understand their significance by investigating how previous societies coped under similar circumstances. But first and foremost, I am always preoccupied with the notion that I just do not have the answer. I am not blessed with the notion of certainty. Someone once said we should think of the world as a sentence with no grammar. If we do I see my job as putting in the punctuation. But above all, my job is to make money.

In keeping with this theme, I want define the three ingredients that I believe make for an outstanding macro hedge fund manager. These are, in no stringent order:

1. Successful but contentious macro risk posturing.

2. The need to choose the asset class offering the highest probability of payout should the conviction hold true whilst offering an asymmetric loss profile should the original premise prove unfounded

3. A best in class risk technique that stop losses the narrative and responds early with loss mitigation procedures (i.e. a method of staying solvent, rational and disciplined under pressure).

I have always figured that the first is the real key. That success was simply a matter of contentious macro posturing. In other words, going long very rich risk premium or buying cheap stuff. It is my assertion that what makes a great fund manager first and foremost is the ability to establish a contentious premise outside the existing belief system and have it go on to become adopted by the broader financial community. Bruce Kovner expressed the idea more eloquently when he said, “I have the ability to imagine configurations of the world different from today and really believe it can happen. I can imagine…that the dollar can fall to 100 yen”. I am sure you are nodding in agreement, except Bruce was saying this when the USDJPY was well over 200, not today's rate of 80!

That is the kind of guy I want to be when I grow up. Recall that I have the kind of imagination that can conceive of the yen trading closer to 60. Similarly, if we look back and reminisce about previous years, the Fund's 50% return in 2003 was derived from a legitimate but certainly contentious view that China's WTO entry was set to boost the cyclical "old" economy of the West and that fiat hyper-management of the financial economy could propel gold into a super bull market. To think these views were once contentious; plus ça change!

Who would'a thunk it: one just needs some imagination and creativity, the ability to visualize that which most of the other ones cant or are too lazy to do it, and just wait as the bizarro market takes over and makes the impossible not only probable, but conventionally accepted by the herd.

And a segment that all the Whitney Tilsons of the world should read:

I fear that our no longer small community has been compromised. Funds are neglecting their hard portfolio stop limits. Last year was generally very tough for long/short strategies and I commiserate with all concerned. But last year witnessed too many world class funds lose over 15% in the space of just two months. Of course today they are celebrated once again for making double digit returns in the quarter just ended yet they still languish below high water marks and their Sharpe ratios are busted.

You could probably live with that if you are a pension scheme or a large, sophisticated fund-of-fund because you have a global macro sub-sector that is typically long gamma (just look at our credit tail fund's 46% gain last year). The unfortunate thing is this group exercised its stop losses somewhere between 2009 and 2010. That is to say, they honoured the pact they had with clients. They adhered to the terms of their risk budget. I fear that owing to this nasty experience, today no one in macro is running much risk. I suspect daily VaR budgets are anchored at 50 bps or less. That is to say, I fear the financial world is in danger of harvesting a monoculture of fund returns that could prove less than robust should the global economy suffer another deflationary reversal…

Read the full letter below:

 

Myth Buster:TARP Bailout May Realize A Positive Return for Taxpayers?

Courtesy of www.econmatters.com.

By EconMatters

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is a program initiated by the US government, funded by taxpayers, in October 2008 to bail out the banking and housing sector after the 2008 financial crisis. Due to the program’s complexity and “repayment” schemes, there has been different estimates of what TARP would ultimately cost.

We looked at the various TARP estimates in August, 2011 trying to shed some light on two very fundamental questions — (1) Where has Uncle Sams’ bailout money gone (2) Has the money been paid back yet.  At that time, we found some published non-government sources of the “amount outstanding” on TARP ranging from $239 billion tracked by Pro Publica to NYT’s $480 billion (CNNMoney data came to $357 billion).  And there’s also one jaw-dropping outlier–$1.5 trillion–estimated by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD)

Even after taking into account of government sources such as Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the U.S. Treasury Dept. is probably the only one repeatedly preaching the “profitability” of TARP.  After proclaiming that “Repayments to Taxpayers Surpass Tarp Funds Outstanding.” in June 2010, Treasury came out with this update earlier this month:

“Overall, the government is now expected to at least break even on its financial stability programs and may realize a positive return. Treasury’s TARP investments and overall stake in AIG, purchase of mortgage-backed securities, and Money Market Fund guarantee program are each currently expected to realize an overall positive return for taxpayers.”

A week later, along came a congressional report by SIGTARP (The Office of the Special Inspector General for the TARP) pouring ice water on the seemingly overly optimistic Treasury:

It is a widely held misconception that TARP will make a profit.….. As of March 31, 2012, $470.1 billion is obligated to TARP programs.6 Of that amount, $414.6 billion had been spent and $50.2 billion remained obligated and available to be spent.  Taxpayers are owed $118.5 billion as of March 31, 2012

The table below from SIGTARP report lists the most recent TARP program estimates from three agencies.

The update from Pro Publica, which tracks both the broader $700 billion TARP bill and the separate bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, showed $225 billion is the net still outstanding as of Apr. 18, 2012.  The tally from NYT stile as of April 28 came to $329.3 billion of fund not returned.  CNNMoney data suggests $356.2 billion “invested” within TARP, and $118.5 billion paid back, leaving 237.7 billion still outstanding.

Most of the outstanding TARP money is in the form of equity ownership in 437 institutions as of March 31, 2012. Treasury (and therefore the taxpayer) remains a shareholder in companies that have not repaid the Government.  According to SIGTARP’s report, the difference in the TARP cost estimates from the three agencies are mainly in the assumptions regarding the value for AIG, GM, Ally, etc. stocks, future funds spent/received, and inclusion/exclusion of certain write-offs.  So essentially, it is difficult to come up with a good estimate as there’s not a clear guideline for “assumptions.”    

Nevertheless, don’t think the buck stops here–SIGTARP report indicated $50.2 billion of TARP funds remain available as of March 31, 2012 to be drawn down by TARP recipients under three of TARP’s 13 announced programs mainly supporting banking, housing and auto sectors.  That means the $118.5 billion TARP loss concluded by SIGTARP could get even worse as more fund is still to be disbursed.

So it is fair to say regardless of the assumptions, it’d be hard pressed for TARP to break even let along turning a profit.  If we count the other programs such as the Fed’s $1.2 trillion secret loan to Wall Street, the likelihood is quite small that U.S. taxpayers would ever come out of this hole dug so deep by the banking crisis and the subsequent secret and not-so-secret bailouts.  Sadly, it looks like the 99% will likely have more than just one lost decade in the course of bailing out the 1%.

Further Reading:
Wall Street Bailout: Fed’s 1.2 Trillion Secret Loans
Wall Street Bailout: Too Big to Collect?

Please click here to read more articles at EconMatters.

Myth Buster: TARP Bailout May Realize A Positive Return for Taxpayers?

Courtesy of www.econmatters.com.

By EconMatters

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is a program initiated by the US government, funded by taxpayers, in October 2008 to bail out the banking and housing sector after the 2008 financial crisis. Due to the program's complexity and "repayment" schemes, there has been different estimates of what TARP would ultimately cost.

We looked at the various TARP estimates in August, 2011 trying to shed some light on two very fundamental questions — (1) Where has Uncle Sams' bailout money gone (2) Has the money been paid back yet.  At that time, we found some published non-government sources of the "amount outstanding" on TARP ranging from $239 billion tracked by Pro Publica to NYT's $480 billion (CNNMoney data came to $357 billion).  And there's also one jaw-dropping outlier–$1.5 trillion–estimated by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD)

Even after taking into account of government sources such as Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the U.S. Treasury Dept. is probably the only one repeatedly preaching the "profitability" of TARP.  After proclaiming that "Repayments to Taxpayers Surpass Tarp Funds Outstanding." in June 2010, Treasury came out with this update earlier this month:

"Overall, the government is now expected to at least break even on its financial stability programs and may realize a positive return. Treasury’s TARP investments and overall stake in AIG, purchase of mortgage-backed securities, and Money Market Fund guarantee program are each currently expected to realize an overall positive return for taxpayers."

A week later, along came a congressional report by SIGTARP (The Office of the Special Inspector General for the TARP) pouring ice water on the seemingly overly optimistic Treasury:

"It is a widely held misconception that TARP will make a profit.….. As of March 31, 2012, $470.1 billion is obligated to TARP programs.6 Of that amount, $414.6 billion had been spent and $50.2 billion remained obligated and available to be spent.  Taxpayers are owed $118.5 billion as of March 31, 2012

The table below from SIGTARP report lists the most recent TARP program estimates from three agencies.

The update from Pro Publica, which tracks both the broader $700 billion TARP bill and the separate bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, showed $225 billion is the net still outstanding as of Apr. 18, 2012.  The tally from NYT stile as of April 28 came to $329.3 billion of fund not returned.  CNNMoney data suggests $356.2 billion "invested" within TARP, and $118.5 billion paid back, leaving 237.7 billion still outstanding.

Most of the outstanding TARP money is in the form of equity ownership in 437 institutions as of March 31, 2012. Treasury (and therefore the taxpayer) remains a shareholder in companies that have not repaid the Government.  According to SIGTARP's report, the difference in the TARP cost estimates from the three agencies are mainly in the assumptions regarding the value for AIG, GM, Ally, etc. stocks, future funds spent/received, and inclusion/exclusion of certain write-offs.  So essentially, it is difficult to come up with a good estimate as there's not a clear guideline for "assumptions."    

Nevertheless, don't think the buck stops here–SIGTARP report indicated $50.2 billion of TARP funds remain available as of March 31, 2012 to be drawn down by TARP recipients under three of TARP’s 13 announced programs mainly supporting banking, housing and auto sectors.  That means the $118.5 billion TARP loss concluded by SIGTARP could get even worse as more fund is still to be disbursed.

So it is fair to say regardless of the assumptions, it'd be hard pressed for TARP to break even let along turning a profit.  If we count the other programs such as the Fed's $1.2 trillion secret loan to Wall Street, the likelihood is quite small that U.S. taxpayers would ever come out of this hole dug so deep by the banking crisis and the subsequent secret and not-so-secret bailouts.  Sadly, it looks like the 99% will likely have more than just one lost decade in the course of bailing out the 1%.

Further Reading:
Wall Street Bailout: Fed's 1.2 Trillion Secret Loans
Wall Street Bailout: Too Big to Collect?

Please click here to read more articles at EconMatters.

Giant Sucking Sound; Demand for Credit in Europe Collapses; Pritchard Misses the Boat

Giant Sucking Sound; Demand for Credit in Europe Collapses; Pritchard Misses the Boat

Courtesy of Mish

In a report on fixed income, David Owen, Chief European Financial Economist at Jefferies, notes that demand for credit in Europe has plunged.

Owen asks Is it the supply or demand for credit that matters?

 25 April 2012

Perhaps the most memorable comment Mario Draghi made to the European Parliament today was the need for a euro area Growth Pact, but he did draw comfort from the results of the ECB’s latest Bank Lending survey.

Draghi made reference to the fact that the balance of firms tightening credit conditions had fallen (from 35% in January to 9%). However, that it is not to say that credit conditions are actually easing, just that they are no longer tightening at the same rate as in January.

Not only are credit conditions still tightening, albeit at a slower rate, but importantly the ECB’s latest Bank Lending survey shows credit demand collapsing. This is not something that Mario Draghi mentioned to the European Parliament at all.

Europe Faces Japan Syndrome

In reference to the above chart, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at The Telegraph says Europe faces Japan syndrome as credit demand implodes

 Europe (minus Germany) looks more like post-bubble Japan each month.

The long-feared credit crunch has mutated instead into a collapse in DEMAND for loans. Households and firms are comatose, or scared stiff, in a string of countries.

Demand for housing loans fell 70pc in Portugal, 44pc in Italy, and 42pc in the Netherlands in the first quarter of 2012. Enterprise loans fell 38pc in Italy. The survey took place in late March and early April, and therefore includes the second of Mario Draghi’s €1 trillion liquidity infusion (LTRO).

The ECB said net demand for loans had fallen "to a significantly lower level than had been expected in the fourth quarter of 2011, with the decline driven in particular by a further sharp drop in financing needs for fixed investment." Demand fell 43pc for household loans, and 30pc for non-bank firms.

This slump in loan demand is more or less what happened during Japan’s Lost Decade as Mr and Mrs Watanabe shunned debt. Zero interest rates did nothing. The Bank of Japan was "pushing on a string" (though it never really launched bond purchases with any serious determination).

The credit squeeze is entirely predictable – and was widely predicted – given that banks must raise their core Tier 1 capital ratios to 9pc by July to meet EU rules, or face nationalisation. (The pro-cyclical folly of this beggars belief: by all means impose higher buffers, but not during a recession, and not by letting banks slash their balance sheets. The US at least forced its banks to raise capital, an entirely different policy since it does not lead to a lending crunch.)

The IMF said last week that Europe’s banks would slash their balance sheets by €2 trillion – or 7pc – by next year. This amounts to an economic shock. The Fund said deleveraging on this scale at a time of sharp fiscal tightening risks a "bad equilibrium".

Or one analyst said, the LTRO lets northern banks dump their bond holdings onto Club Med banks. The renationalisation of the eurozone financial system goes a step further.

The LTRO "carry trade" is already revealing the sting in its tail in any case since the banks are by now underwater on a lot of bonds. What happens if and when they need to sell those bonds to cover debts falling due over the next year?

Until the ECB conducts monetary policy with proper energy, calls for "Growth Compacts" from governments amount to humbug. The ECB needs to do its own work.

We all know why it will not do so: because Hayekian romantics at the Bundesbank hold sway, and none of the other governors dare say boo. Live with the consequences.

Live with the Consequences Indeed

Pritchard conveniently ignores the fact that Japan is struggling right now to "live with the consequences" of numerous misguided monetary and fiscal stimulus efforts over 20 years. Japan has debt-to-GDP exceeding 200% and little to show for it. And Japan now has to live with the consequences of numerous misguided QE and stimulus proposals. 

Pritchard apparently wants more QE for Europe as if that would increase demand for credit.

Note that two rounds of QE did not increase the demand for credit in the US as per my post The Real Consumer Credit Story: Virtually No Recovery in Revolving Credit, No Recovery in Non-Revolving Credit.

Moreover, QE did not succeed in increasing the demand for credit in Japan over 20 years. So pray tell why would QE increase the demand for credit in Europe? More importantly, even if it did, would that be a good thing?

European banks are already over-leveraged and under-capitalized so how the hell is providing cheap credit going to possibly do anything good?

Would 0% interest rates help when that did not help Japan?

Pritchard Misses the Boat

Clearly Pritchard missed the boat on QE as well as the desirability of attempting to cram more credit down banks' throats when banks are over-leveraged and under-capitalized.

Everyone wants to do something "but not now". While there is immense merit to not hiking taxes in a recession as Brussels forced on Greece, Spain, and Portugal, work rule and pension changes are badly needed.

Pritchard's idea of raising capital instead of selling assets seems reasonable enough. However, nothing stops banks from doing that, at least in theory. Is practice another matter?

Giant Sucking Sound 

William Wright discusses Tier-1 Capital requirements in A rough guide to surviving the great deleveraging of 2012

 As if Basel III weren’t enough of a headache, big European banks face a deadline of June 30 from the European Banking Authority to increase their core Tier-1 capital ratios to 9%, equivalent to raising €115bn in equity.

In theory, banks can meet this by retaining profits, raising equity or shrinking assets. But with equity markets all but closed to banks and earnings falling, a crash diet to reduce their bloated balance sheets is the only realistic option.

Analysts expect that the great bank deleveraging of 2012 could see as much as $2 trillion to $3 trillion of assets trimmed from European banks’ balance sheets – or about 5% of total assets – with damaging consequences not only for the banking industry but for the fragile European economy.

Here is a rough guide to some of the inevitable consequences – some deliberate, some unintended and some obscure – of this deleveraging on the investment banking industry.

Death of profits, jobs and banks

The most obvious impact of deleveraging will be the devastation it will wreak on the profits of investment banks. In 2006, Goldman Sachs posted a return on equity of 33% and its core leverage – assets divided by equity – was 29 times. Fast forward to the first nine months of this year, and its return on equity was 3.7% with leverage of 14 times. Not because it has radically shrunk its balance sheet (yet) but because it has more than doubled its equity.

The same process will play out across the industry, where the combination of an increase in the cost of business driven by regulation is colliding with a downturn in activity. This will choke off profits, with JP Morgan forecasting that average ROE for the industry will fall to just 8% next year. That’s in line with research by Financial News that shows average pretax ROE in the first nine months of this year was 12% (or about 8% net).

Structurally lower profitability has already prompted banks such as Credit Suisse and UBS to slash their fixed income trading activities. While the thousands of job cuts seem harsh, they are often in the low single digits in terms of overall headcount. As more banks grasp the nettle in 2012, they will pull out of entire business lines, cutting 10% or 20% of their staff – or pull out of investment banking altogether.

Is That All Bad News?

Wright concludes that is not all bad news. I agree, but for some different reasons.

First Wright … 

 The Promised Land

In all of this, there is some good news. For those banks that can survive the rigours of deleveraging without having to pull out of entire regions or businesses while retaining a profitable operation, there is a Promised Land on the other side. Overcapacity in the investment banking industry will be whittled away to leave a smaller number of bigger and (relatively) more profitable global banks whose scale will increasingly play to their advantage.

Bankers talk of JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and perhaps one other – maybe Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital or Citi – emerging stronger than ever. At the same time there will be a larger number of product and sector specialists, which will drop the “me-too” approach of the past decade.

In this new world, with a realistic price for risk and credit and less competition, margins can only go one way: up.

Banks Should Be Banks, Not Hedge Funds

I do not believe that bigger is better and I am sick of the notion "too big to fail". Indeed, it most often means two things:

  1. Too Big To Succeed
  2. Taxpayer Bailouts

Banks should be banks, not hedge funds. To the extent that Basel III forces banks to shed trading activities and other non-traditional activities that banks now find themselves in, I view that as a good thing.

I certainly agree with Wright regarding the need for "a realistic price for risk and credit", but "less competition" is certainly not the essence of well-formed free markets.

My conclusion is that Wright does not understand the Fed's role in the creation of this mess or sound Austrian economic principles needed to fix it.  

We will indeed see a "a realistic price for risk and credit" if and only if we get rid of the Fed and end fractional reserve lending. Bigger banks are not the answer.

By the way, Wright is not quite correct when he says "equity markets all but closed to banks". 

Let's phrase the idea properly: "equity markets all but closed to banks, on terms that banks want". Banks do not want shareholder dilution that comes with raising equity now.

Bondholders do not want to take a hit either. Both should have happened already. However, Bush, Obama, Congress, and the Fed acted in unison to prevent what desperately needed to happen.

If Not Now, When?

Pritchard thinks the time to raise Tier-1 Capital requirements is not now. OK, when is it? 10 years from now? Or will Spain, Greece, and Italy still be too fragile?

Japan shows the folly of depending on QE and fiscal stimulus to spawn inflation, then waiting for it to happen. 

Japan's Four-Pronged Approach  

  1. Fiscal Stimulus
  2. Monetary Stimulus (QE)
  3. Misguided Hope
  4. Ignore Capital Impairments of Banks Waiting for Things to Get Better

Did Japan succeed? 

In the case of Europe, there is also this "not-so-little" problem that Pritchard is extremely aware of yet mysteriously avoids every time he rails about the ECB not doing enough. I am obviously talking about the Euro.

The LTRO increased leverage and risk on Spanish and Italian banks. QE is useless, something Pritchard should see. Reducing interest rates will shift imbalances to other countries, and may send oil and food prices higher, but it sure will not increase lending.

Pritchard says "The ECB needs to do its own work, with proper energy." What "work" is that? Does any "work" make any sense?

The first irony is Pritchard compares Europe to Japan, while essentially proposing the same four-pronged policy of failure followed by Japan.

The second irony of Pritchard's column is that if Basel III moves forward the date of the inevitable breakup of the eurozone, that would be a good thing. A eurozone breakup would place Europe on a faster pace of ending the very "Japan Syndrome" that Pritchard rails against.

Proper Energy

Not only do I want to raise tier-1 capital requirements, I want to see a 100% gold-backed dollar, the end of fractional reserve lending, and the end of duration-mismatched lending (e.g. selling 5-year CDs and making mortgage loans for 30 years).

Finally, lending of money that is supposed to be available on demand is fraudulent and must be stopped. I would be more than willing to phase those ideas in, but the time to start is now, not 10 years from now under the misguided notion things will be better if only banks would lend more.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

On Student Loans, Accounting Gimmicks, Electric Cars, FX and a note on SS

Courtesy of Bruce Krasting

 
Student Loan Battle

There was a big fight in D.C. this past week over student loans.

The issue is a scheduled increase in interest on new student loans from 3.4% to 6.4% set for July 1. Clearly this is a dumb plan. I don’t see any political opposition to the idea that the summer of 2012 is a horrible time to double the cost of student loans. It will shock no one that the ‘solutions’ being put forward by the politicos are the same ones they propose for every other problem.

The House Republicans have put forward a Bill to extend the 3.4% rate for a year. The cost (increased deficit) of the twelve month extension is $6B. The Republicans want to offset the $6B with (surprise) $12B in reduced spending for the Affordable Care-Act. The Republicans love to trade marbles for reduced Obamacare. They want a 2-1 reduction in medical spending versus education costs. Maybe the “Reds” have the chips to push this outcome. They might settle for a 1-1 deal, but the White House will hate this outcome.

The Senate Democrats want to raise taxes on those making over $250K to offset the cost of the one-year deferral. Their argument is similar to the Buffett tax plan they tried a few weeks ago. Lacking support, it was so clear it wouldn't pass that it was never voted on. I would give the Senate legislation on student loans a zero chance in the House. It is D.O.A.

There will be the same ideological pissing match and the same result. We will get a one-year extension “paid” for with “promised” reductions in expenses starting in 2017. Another kick of the can, and another big problem in 2013.

This is what happens over a crummy $6B. On January 1, 2013, there are cutbacks and higher taxes totaling $500B scheduled. The coming “Tax Armageddon” is supposed to be resolved in a lame duck session of Congress after the November election. There is a “zero” chance of that working out.

 
One in a Hundred
 

I have been following the evolution of new global lease accounting standards. At the heart of this issue is the recognition that a lease is just another form of debt, and that the debt should be put on the balance sheet of the lessor. The big hitters in the US leasing business (and their accountants) have opposed the new standards. At this point 100 countries have signed on to the new accounting rules, but the adoption has been delayed by the good old USA.

At the G-20 meeting last week, finance ministers extended the deadline for the our rule makers to adopt the new rules till June, 2013. That date is already 30 months late. My guess is that there will be another delay, and the source of the delay will be the powerful companies, (think GE) that have a lot to lose if a lease is treated as debt (as it should be).

The Foxes are the cops in this hen house. When it comes to accounting and full disclosure, nothing has changed.

 
On Electric Cars

GE has dug itself deeper into the electric car business:

It’s all well and good if GE wants to put its shareholders at risk on the future of electric cars. My concerns are that a great deal of money is being spent by D.C. on this effort, and that GE's, Jeff Immelt, is the President’s policy adviser. Jeff blows smoke in Obama’s face and the government doles out billions to support  GE, Ford, Fisker, Tesla and others.

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If I were running the show, I would have invested in the infrastructure for delivering natural gas as a fuel for vehicles. The US has an abundance of cheap natural gas. A fair bit of that energy is just being flared into the air these days.

It’s not as if Natgas cars are some untested concept. Brazil has been using them for thirty years. Globally, there are about 15m Natgas powered vehicles. Of that amount only 300,000 (2%) are in the US.

So why is the government, the car manufactures and the energy companies avoiding this opportunity? The answer is that it is much more profitable to sell expensive gasoline to consumers than it is to sell cheap Natgas.

Note: Honda makes a Natgas powered car. This vehicle was named Green Car of the year in 2011 as it gets 31 miles to the gallon with much lower emissions than gas powered cars. If there were a distribution system available, these cars would be more popular than electric cars.  The cost of running cars on Natgas is about half of the cost of a gas car.

Why is the government supporting one technology over another? Why is it supporting the expensive alternative versus the cheaper one? Another example of the foxes being the cops.

On FX

There was very little net movement in the major currencies last week. I was surprised that the Euro did not weaken. The news is terrible. There is a very good chance that the French and Greek elections on May 6 will bring about political changes that will undermine the stability of the EU.

If the French kick out Sarkozy (I think they will) then the chances of Spain getting a desperately needed rescue package will fall to zero. Without France standing shoulder to shoulder with Germany in support of the Euro, the whole experiment may fall into the crapper. Yet the Euro managed to eek out a small weekly gain against the buck.

Some are attributing the relative strength of the Euro to ongoing capital repatriation by the EU banks as they reduce their non-Euro assets. (Zero Hedge) Others are suggesting that large existing EURUSD short positions are the problem.

Maybe, but I’m catching a whiff of dollar weakness. I don’t pay that much attention to the hourly trading action in FX, but I do watch how the USD trades when news comes out. When there has been “good news” the dollar has not traded higher. When there is “bad news” (the weak GDP report) the dollar has traded lower.

I believe that the US is currently in 3rd place in the race to the bottom. The EU and Japan are leading this race. So this makes me (reluctantly) a dollar bull. I’m not getting fat on this position, I’m not even getting fed, so I cut some positions on Friday. I took a small loss on some recently acquired USDYEN and took a nice profit on an older (smaller) position on USDYEN that I picked up under 79.00. I took the net gains and bought one month puts on the EURUSD.

Note: The EURCHF has been trading at less than 1/8th percent away from the intervention level of 1.2000 for over a month. This is an accident waiting to happen. It looks very quiet on the charts, but there is a steam kettle with a hot fire underneath this chart. If the French election goes against Sarkozy, I have to believe the kettle is going to blow a few rivets.

I have no exposure in the CHF crosses, but I’m watching the action. If the Swiss National Bank is forced to support its peg over the next few weeks, it will send a bunch of other lighting bolts flying.

On Social Security

I’ve been trying to stir the pot on Social Security this week after the release of the annual report (Link). I thought the report was ample evidence to stimulate a discussion of what changes are needed at SS, and by when. I was wrong. The terrible report and its terrible conclusions have been ignored. The typical response I get from the Defenders of SS is,

“The Trust Fund behind SS was always scheduled to run out some day; that it's happening ahead of schedule does not matter at all.”

To those who do not see the fire burning here I point to the following slides from the 2008 and 2012 reports to Congress:

 
 

The base case assumption on the timing of the peak in the TF balance has changed dramatically over the past four years:

 

Social Security is going to eat our lunch much faster than the public thinks. Those who think that this does not matter and that nothing should be done are dead wrong.

Note: I get a lot of flack about my focus on the Trust Fund (TF). I agree with those who say, “There is no Trust Fund”. The accounting on this is just a sham. But TF accounting is the reality in D.C., and that is not going to change. So I push on the deteriorating status of the Trust Fund (that doesn’t exist) in an effort to raise a red flag.

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The No Retirement Plan: 25% Expect to Work Till 80 (Greater than Life Expectancy)

The No Retirement Plan: 25% Expect to Work Till 80 (Greater than Life Expectancy); What About the Expected Retirement of Nuclear Power Plants?

Courtesy of Mish

Given major delays in retirement plans, 80 is the new 65 says CNN Money. 

 A quarter of middle-class Americans are now so pessimistic about their savings that they are planning to delay retirement until they are at least 80 years old — two years longer than the average person is even expected to live.

It sounds depressing, but for many it's a necessity. On average, Americans have only saved a mere 7% of the retirement nest egg they were hoping to build, according to Wells Fargo's latest retirement survey that polled 1,500 middle-class Americans.

While respondents (whose ages ranged from 20 to 80) had median savings of only $25,000, their median retirement savings goal was $350,000. And 30% of people in their 60s — right around the traditional retirement age of 65 — that were surveyed had saved less than $25,000 for retirement.
As a result, many people aren't in a hurry to quit their day jobs.

Three-fourths of middle-class Americans expect to work throughout retirement. And this includes the 25% of Americans who say they will "need to work until at least age 80" before being able to retire comfortably.

Job Insecurity, Debt Weigh on Retirement Confidence, Savings

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reports Job Insecurity, Debt Weigh on Retirement Confidence, Savings

Executive Summary Points 

  • Americans’ confidence in their ability to retire comfortably is stagnant at historically low levels. Just 14 percent are very confident they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement (statistically equivalent to the low of 13 percent measured in 2011 and 2009).
  • Employment insecurity looms large: Forty-two percent identify job uncertainty as the most pressing financial issue facing most Americans today.
  • Worker confidence about having enough money to pay for medical expenses and long-term care expenses in retirement remains well below their confidence levels for paying basic expenses.
  • Many workers report they have virtually no savings and investments. In total, 60 percent of workers report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000.
  • Retirees report they are significantly more reliant on Social Security as a major source of their retirement income than current workers expect to be.
  • Although 56 percent of workers expect to receive benefits from a defined benefit plan in retirement, only 33 percent report that they and/or their spouse currently have such a benefit with a current or previous employer.
  • More than half of workers (56 percent) report they and/or their spouse have not tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved by the time they retire so that they can live comfortably in retirement.

What About the Expected Retirement of Nuclear Power Plants?

I picked up links to the above articles in a surprising place. Dawn Stover, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists compared the retirement of workers to the "The new retirement" for nuclear power plants

 Today, only 14 percent of Americans age 25 and older are confident that they will have enough money to retire comfortably, according to a recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). Another recent survey, by Wells Fargo, reported that a quarter of middle-class Americans now plan to postpone retirement until they are at least 80 years old — longer than many of them are expected to live. For Americans facing an uncertain financial future, 80 is the new 65.

Some are calling it "the new retirement." But it really should be called "the no retirement."

And senior citizens aren't alone. Nuclear reactors are experiencing some of the same woes: Retirement age is fast approaching or already in the rearview mirror, but there is a lot less money in the nest egg than anticipated.

At the 44 US nuclear reactors that have already received license extensions, 60 is the new 40. And even when those reactors reach the end of their working lives, they may not be able to move on to the final stage. According to a recent article in The New York Times, the operators of 20 US nuclear reactors — including some with licenses that expire soon — do not have sufficient funding for prompt dismantling. If these reactors can't keep working, their owners "intend to let them sit like industrial relics for 20 to 60 years or even longer while interest accrues in the reactors' retirement accounts."

Is it crazy for someone to delay his retirement past the age he can expect to live? Sure, but that's essentially what the nuclear industry plans to do with many of its reactors. And it should not come as a surprise that the NRC has no problem with this plan. After all, we're talking about a regulatory agency that issues 40-year licenses for a process that creates a radioactive waste problem lasting tens of thousands of years.

Crazy to Plan Retirement Past Life Expectancy? 

Dawn says "Is it crazy for someone to delay his retirement past the age he can expect to live". Sorry Dawn, that's not crazy at all. If you have insufficient money, you need to work. Some want to work because they like what they are doing.

If you are seeking crazy, try these:

  1. What is crazy is to expect social security to take care of all your retirement needs.
  2. It's also crazy to expect to receive defined benefits even if you are not in a defined benefit plan. 
  3. Finally, it's crazy for public unions to think they are going to get all of their promised benefits when it will bankrupt cities and states to do so.

Economic Craziness

If you are looking for more craziness, Dawn wants a "carbon tax to lift job prospects".

Here is another crazy idea: Dawn talks of  "forcing people to save more and protect retirement savings from the vagaries of the financial markets".

Yikes!

Nuclear Craziness

One point I happen to agree with Dawn on.  It's crazy to issue "40-year licenses for a process that creates a radioactive waste problem lasting tens of thousands of years" and have no plans for anything but the first 40 years.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

GDP Miss Far Bigger Than Announced; Real GDP is 0% Using More Reasonable Deflator

Courtesy of Mish 

The Advance Estimate for Q1 GDP came in at 2.2%, down from 3.0% in the previous quarter, and below most mainstream media estimates of 2.5%.

However, my friend BC notes ….

The GDP deflator is reported to have averaged 1.2% annualized in the past 2 qtrs. Had the trend rate from '11 persisted, the deflator would have subtracted 2.6% annualized from real GDP, resulting in a 2-qtr. growth of real GDP of 0%. 

ECRI's Achuthan would appear correct that a recession were imminent instead of looking like a dummy.

Rick Davis at the Consumer Metric Institute makes a similar calculation.

 In their "advanced" estimate of the first quarter 2012 GDP, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) found that the annualized rate of U.S. domestic economic growth was 2.20%, down more than three-quarters of a percent from the fourth quarter of 2011. The vast bulk of the downturn was in commercial activities, with both fixed investments and inventories lowering the headline number substantially. Consumer spending on both goods and services improved slightly, and the ongoing contraction in governmental spending moderated somewhat. The BEA's bottom-line "real final sales" improved about a half-percent to an annualized growth rate of 1.61% — hardly robust and certainly not the kind of numbers we would expect to see nearly three years into a recovery.

Once again the BEA has used "deflaters" that will strain the credibility of the public, especially if they buy gasoline. To correct the "nominal" data into "real" numbers the BEA assumed that the annualized inflation rate during 1Q-2012 was 1.54%. As a reminder, lower "deflaters" cause the reported "real" growth rates to increase — and once again very low seasonally adjusted BEA inflation "deflaters" have been the headline number's best friend. If the raw "nominal" numbers were instead "deflated" by using the seasonally corrected CPI-U calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for the same time period, nearly the entire headline growth rate vanishes — and the resulting growth rate would have been a minuscule 0.08% with "real final sales" contracting.

And real per capita disposable income actually shrank during the quarter shrank at an annualized -0.27% rate (from $32,699 per capita to $32,677 per capita) — and it remains lower than it was 5 quarters ago. — even using the BEA's optimistic "deflaters." Real-world households likely felt the pinch even more.

Doug Short at Advisor Perspectives has some interesting charts in his post GDP Q1 Advance Estimate Disappoints at 2.2%.

This chart shows the disturbing trends.

click on chart for sharper image

GDP Trends 

  • Average growth since 1945 is 3.3%
  • Linear regression says growth is trending lower at 2.1%
  • Over the last 10 years, growth averages a mere 1.7%

Take a good look at the last decade. The US only managed 1.7% growth in the biggest housing boom in history followed by the biggest multi-trillion dollar global stimulus effort in world history.

Three years into a recovery, growth (if you believe preposterous deflators) is a mere 2.2% but only 0% if you don't.  Moreover, with parts of Europe in an outright depression, with even Germany and the UK in recession, and with China slowing significantly, the odds the US economy decouples for too much longer is now approaching zero.

I think the ECRI has its recession forecast reasonably correct. However, it may take a well-deserved GDP revision (likely after the next election) to prove it.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

Why Is It Necessary For The Federal Government To Turn The United States Into A Prison Camp?

Why Is It Necessary For The Federal Government To Turn The United States Into A Prison Camp?

There has been no society in the history of the world that has ever been 100% safe.  No matter how much money the federal government spends on "homeland security", the truth is that bad things will still happen.  Our world is a very dangerous place and it is becoming increasingly unstable.  The federal government could turn the entire country into one giant prison camp, but that would still not keep us safe.  It is inevitable that bad stuff will happen in life.  But we have a choice.  We can choose to live in fear or we can choose to live as free men and women.  Our forefathers intended to establish a nation where liberty and freedom would be maximized. 

But today we are told that we have to give up our liberties and our freedoms and our privacy for increased security.  But is such a trade really worth it?  Just think of the various totalitarian societies that we have seen down throughout history.  Have any of them ever really thrived?  Have their people been happy?  Unfortunately, the U.S. federal government has decided that the entire country needs to be put on lock down.  Nearly everything that we do today is watched and tracked, and personal privacy is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  Many of the things that George Orwell wrote about in 1984 are becoming a reality, and that is a very frightening thing.  The United States is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Sadly, we are rapidly becoming the exact opposite of that.

I don't know about you, but I never signed up to live in North Korea.  When I was growing up I was taught that repressive regimes such as North Korea are "the bad guys" and that America is where "the good guys" live.

So why do we want to be just like North Korea?

When they put in the naked body scanners at U.S. airports and started having TSA agents conduct "enhanced pat-downs" of travelers, I decided that I was not going to fly anymore unless absolutely necessary.

Then I heard about how "random bag checks" were being conducted at Metro train stations in the Washington D.C. area, and I was glad that I was no longer taking the train into D.C. anymore.

But now the TSA is showing up everywhere.  Down in Houston, undercover TSA agents and police officers will now "ride buses, perform random bag checks, and conduct K-9 sweeps, as well as place uniformed and plainclothes officers at Transit Centers and rail platforms to detect, prevent and address latent criminal activity or behavior."

So now I have another thing to add to my list of things that I can't do anymore.

No more riding buses for me.

But the truth is that you can't escape this expanding security grid no matter how hard you try.

In fact, TSA "VIPR teams" conduct approximately 8,000 "unannounced security screenings" every year at bus terminals, train stations, ports and highway rest stops throughout the United States.

Look, every society needs some level of security.  There are always bad guys out there that want to harm innocent people.

But in the United States we must demand that those in charge of our security do their jobs in a way that does not compromise our dignity, our liberties or our freedoms.

Does having TSA thugs touch the private parts of old women and young children before they get on their flights keep us any safer?

Of course not.

But it does move our country in a very dangerous direction.

The reality is that this "Big Brother control grid" that is being constructed all around us is expanding in a thousand different ways.

For example, a new bill before the U.S. Congress would require black box data recorders to be installed in all new vehicles starting in 2015.  These black box data recorders will be able to constantly transmit data about everything that your car is  doing to the government and to the insurance companies.  The following is from a recent article by Eric Peters….

And naturally, they – the government, insurance companies – will be able to track your every move, noting (and recording) where you’ve been and when. This will create a surveillance net beyond anything that ever existed previously. Some will not sweat this: After all, if you’ve got nothing to hide, why worry? Except for the fact that, courtesy of almost everything we do being either “illegal” or at least “suspicious” we all have a great deal to hide. The naivety of the Don’t Worry, it’s No Big Deal crowd is breathtaking. Did the average Soviet citizen also “not have anything to hide,” and hence why worry?

But the last possibility is probably the creepiest possibility: EDRs tied into your car’s GPS will give them – the government and its corporate **** ******* (edited for language) – literal physical control over (hack) “your” vehicle. This is not conspiracy theorizing. It is technological fact. Current GM vehicles equipped with the same technology about to be mandated for every vehicle can be disabled remotely. Just turned off. All the OnStar operator has to do is send the appropriate command over the GPS to your car’s computer, which controls the engine. It is one of the features touted by OnStar – of course, as a “safety” feature.

In the future, it will be used to limit your driving – for the sake of “energy conservation” or perhaps, “the environment.” It will be the perfect, er, vehicle, for implementing U.N. Agenda 21 – the plan to herd all of us formerly free-range tax cattle into urban feedlots. So much easier to control us this way. No more bailing out to the country or living off the grid – unless you get there (and to your work) by walking.

Even when you are sitting at home you are still being watched and monitored in countless ways.

For example, every single call you make on your cell phone is intercepted and monitored by the government.

Your Internet activity is tracked and monitored by a whole host of government agencies as well.  If you doubt this, just read this article.

Now CISPA would expand government surveillance of the Internet even further.  The following description of CISPA comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation website….

CISPA creates an exception to all privacy laws to permit companies to share our information with each other and with the government in the name of cybersecurity…. CISPA’s ‘information sharing’ regime allows the transfer of vast amounts of data, including sensitive information like internet use history or the content of emails, to any agency in the government including military and intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency or the Department of Defense Cyber Command. Once in government hands, this information can be used for any non-regulatory purpose so long as one significant purpose is for cybersecurity or to protect national security.

Frightening stuff, eh?

I want you to imagine a scenario for a moment.  Imagine that the government assigned two "watchers" to you that followed you everywhere you went and stared directly into your face the entire time.

Would you feel comfortable?

Why not?

You don't have anything to hide, do you?

Well, of course the truth is that none of us would like having our privacy constantly invaded.  It is not pleasant to constantly feel like you are being watched.

That is why all of these new "security measures" are so alarming.  A system is being set up where all of us are being constantly watched and monitored 24 hours a day.

And most Americans have no idea how fast the transition to full martial law could potentially be.

Barack Obama recently updated an old executive order that has been around for decades that would enable him to take charge of all food, all energy, all health resources and all transportation resources in the United States with the stroke of a pen. This new update would allow him to do it even in "non-emergency" situations.

The following is what U.S. Representative Kay Granger recently had to say about this executive order….

This means all of our water resources, construction services and materials (steel, concrete, etc.), our civil transportation system, food and health resources, our energy supplies including oil and natural gas – even farm equipment – can be taken over by the President and his cabinet secretaries.  The Government can also draft U.S. citizens into the military and force U.S. citizens to fulfill "labor requirements" for the purposes of "national defense."  There is not even any Congressional oversight, only briefings are required.

Later on in her letter, Representative Granger even used the phrases "martial law" and "government takeover" to describe the power that Barack Obama potentially has under this executive order….

It is still unclear why this order was signed now, and what the consequences are for our nation – especially during times of peace.  This type of Martial Law imposes a government takeover on U.S. citizens that is typically reserved for national emergencies, not in a time of relative peace.

Do you trust Barack Obama with that kind of power?

Unfortunately, considering the really bad decisions that all of our government officials regularly make, it is really hard to trust any of them to do the right thing at this point.

The American people need to let their voices be heard on these issues.  If not, the federal government will continue to strip away our privacy, our liberties and our freedoms until everything is gone.

Do you want your children to grow up in a country that has been turned into a giant prison camp and that more closely resembles North Korea than it does the nation that our forefathers originally founded?

If not, please do what you can to speak out against these abuses.

The truth is that the federal government does not really even care about our national security anyway.

If they did, they would secure our borders.  Just today I read that the National Guard is withdrawing 900 troops from the U.S.-Mexico border.  Our border security is already a total joke and now it is going to be even worse.

Over the past several decades, tens of millions of people have crossed that border illegally.  Every single day, terrorists, drug dealers, gang members, sexual predators and a whole host of other "bad guys" could be crossing that border and we would never even know about it because we aren't doing anything to stop it.

For nearly 60 years, the U.S. government has successfully protected the border between South Korea and North Korea, but the U.S. government flatly refusesto protect our own borders.

Until the federal government decides to do what the U.S. Constitution requires them to do and start protecting our borders, then the federal government should not be asking any of us to make a single sacrifice in the name of "security".

The truth is that we can have a reasonable level of security in this nation without giving up the liberties and the freedoms that millions of Americans have shed their blood to protect.

We do not need to turn the United States into a giant prison camp.  America is supposed to be the land of the free, and we need to work hard to get that dream back.

 
 

53 Percent Of All Young College Graduates In America Are Either Unemployed Or Underemployed

53 Percent Of All Young College Graduates In America Are Either Unemployed Or Underemployed

Courtesy of Michael Snyder of Economic Collapse 

If you are in college right now, you will most likely either be unemployed or working a job that only requires a high school degree when you graduate.  The truth is that the U.S. economy is not coming anywhere close to producing enough jobs for the hordes of new college graduates that are entering the workforce every year.  In 2011, 53 percent of all Americans with a bachelor's degree under the age of 25 were either unemployed or underemployed.  Millions upon millions of young college graduates feel like the system has totally failed them.  They worked hard in school all their lives, they went into huge amounts of debt in order to get the college education that they were told they "must have" in order to get a good job, but after graduation they found that there were only a handful of good jobs for the huge waves of college graduates that were entering the "real world".  All over America, college graduates can be found waiting tables, flipping burgers and working behind the register at retail stores.  Unfortunately, the employment picture in America is not going to get significantly better any time soon.

All over the United States, "middle class jobs" are being replaced by "low income jobs" and young college graduates are being hurt by this transition more than almost anyone else.  Massive numbers of young college graduates are now working jobs that do not even require a high school degree.  Some of the statistics about young college graduates are absolutely astounding.  The following is from a recent CNBC article….

In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).

Can you imagine working really hard all throughout high school and college and always getting good grades and then ending up as a bartender?

Sadly, many hard working college graduates cannot seem to find a decent job no matter how hard they try.  The following is one example from the CNBC article mentioned above….

"I don't even know what I'm looking for," says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

Initially hopeful that his college education would create opportunities, Bledsoe languished for three months before finally taking a job as a barista, a position he has held for the last two years. In the beginning he sent three or four resumes day. But, Bledsoe said, employers questioned his lack of experience or the practical worth of his major. Now he sends a resume once every two weeks or so.

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever sent out resumes week after week, month after month, only to get absolutely nowhere?

Many recent college graduates are being advised by "career counselors" that they should go back and "get more education".

But is that really the answer?  The truth is that there are lots and lots of unemployed and underemployed Americans with advanced degrees too.  For example, a recent Business Insider article profiled a law school graduate named Erin that is actually on food stamps….

She remains on food stamps so her social life suffers. She can't afford a car, so she has to rely on the bus to get around Austin, Texas, where she lives. And currently unable to pay back her growing pile of law school debt, Gilmer says she wonders if she will ever be able to pay it back.

"That has been really hard for me," she says. "I have absolutely no credit anymore. I haven't been able to pay loans. It's scary, and it's a hard thing to think you’re a lawyer but you’re impoverished. People don’t understand that most lawyers actually aren’t making the big money."

But what "more education" will do is that it will get you into even more debt.  Student loan debt can be one of the cruelest forms of debt, because it cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

As I wrote about a few days ago, total student loan debt in the United States recently surpassed the one trillion dollar mark.  Students keep on racking up student loan debt in the hope that they will find "the American Dream" at the end of the rainbow.

Sadly, many students do everything "right" and still end up in the middle of a nightmare.

But it is not just young college graduates that are suffering in this economy.

As I wrote about a while back, the U.S. economy is not producing enough jobs for anyone at this point.

The mainstream media keeps telling us that unemployment is going down, but the truth is that the percentage of working age Americans that are employed is not increasing.  In March 2010, 58.5 percent of all working age Americans had a job.  In March 2012, 58.5 percent of all working age Americans had a job.

Does that sounds like improvement?

Of course not.

Unlike what we have seen after every other recession in the post-World War II era, the employment to population ratio is not bouncing back, and that is really bad news.

The main reason for this is because of the bad economy, but also it is important to understand that we are transitioning away from an "employment economy".

Today, most large corporations view employees as very expensive "liabilities".  The goal for most large corporations is to minimize those "liabilities" as much as possible.  In fact, these days some large corporations lay off huge numbers of workers even while they are making huge profits at the same time.

Once upon a time, Henry Ford made a conscious decision to pay his workers enough money so that they could afford to buy the cars that they were making.

Today, most corporations simply do not care about the living standards of their workers.  They simply want to maximize profits to the fullest extent possible.

Many small businesses would like to hire more workers, but the federal government has made hiring workers so complicated and so expensive that it has become exceedingly difficult to make a profit on a worker.  Most of the time it is simply easier to try to do more with what you already have.

The number of Americans that can work a job ("just over broke") and still live "the American Dream" is steadily shrinking.  Increasingly, the financial rewards in our economy are being funneled to the very top of organizations and workers are finding that their living standards continue to slowly go down.

At corporations that belong to the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index, CEOs earn380 times what the average worker makes at those companies.  In 1980, CEOs only earned 42 times what the average worker made at those companies.

A fundamental shift is happening in our economy and it is not going to be reversed any time soon.  Workers are not valued at most companies anymore.  No matter how much of yourself you give to your company, when the day comes that you become "disposable", you will be cast aside as so much rubbish.

That is why I try to encourage people to start their own businesses and to be their own bosses.  There is no job security anymore.  The job that you have today could be gone tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the federal government is actually spending your money to train foreign workers to take our jobs.  The following is from a recent Daily Caller article….

While the president has been urging “insourcing,” the government has been sending money to the Philippines to train foreign workers for jobs in English-speaking call centers.

According to New York Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop and North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, this is unacceptable and “shocking.”

The pair are calling on the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to immediately suspend what is known as the Job Enabling English Proficiency (JEEP) program.

Can you believe that?

Over and over again, our politicians talk about the need to keep jobs in the United States and then they go out and do things that have the exact opposite effect.

It is truly maddening.

So what are the hordes of American workers that cannot find jobs supposed to do?

Well, one thing we are definitely seeing is a huge rise in the number of Americans that are dependent on the government.

For example, at the end of the Reagan administration the ratio of workers on Social Security disability to active workers was about 2 percent.

Today, it is over 6 percent.

During the first four months of 2012 alone, 539,000 more Americans were added to the Social Security disability rolls and another 725,000 submitted new applications.

Another federal program that is experiencing explosive growth is food stamps.

Last year, one out of every seven Americans was on food stamps, and the Congressional Budget Office is projecting that the number of people on food stamps will continue to grow through 2014.

It is so sad to see what is happening to America.  Our economy is being dismantled all around us and the future looks incredibly bleak.

Right now there are millions upon millions of Americans that are sitting at home wallowing in despair.  They don't understand why nobody will hire them and they are rapidly running out of options.

The following is a comment that a reader left on one of my recent articles about the middle class….

I cannot believe my present situation…

I worked hard in school and college so that I could escape the low income uneducated mess I grew up in.

I made all the correct decisions with my career, finances, etc. I cannot figure out how I got to where I am at now.

In late 2008 I was laid off in the IT field. I was a go-getter, and I didn’t let anyone tell me the economy would make it difficult to find a job. I had another within 4 weeks.

Was laid off from that job last year. I qualified for unemployment, but then my employer decides to bring a bunch of lawyers and fight my eligibility. After I won again, they appealed again. I finally couldn’t afford to keep paying attorney fees. I finally lost the appeal. I had to pay all that money back.

I’m still trying to find a job in my field. Being the go-getting I am, I immediately took a job waiting tables which amounted to a 75% pay-cut.

I had saved 6 months of expenses and that is completely dry. I have completely drained my retirement and savings. Still cannot find a livable wage job after almost a decade in my field.

Things are slowly going into default and it feels utterly hopeless and stressful. My pristine credit rating is gone, my savings and everything I worked for is gone. I haven’t missed a payment on my mortgage, but it is coming. I can’t cut anything more than I already have.

I just can’t figure out how this could have happened to me. I played by the rules and made all the right choices. I skipped vacations and time off to prove I was a good worker and had what it took to be a valuable employee.

I really am just at a loss at this point. I’m single and have no family. This is really make-or-break for me. I have no fallback plan. The feeling of failure is just gut-wrenching.

Please say a prayer for that reader and for all of the other hard working Americans out there that are desperate to find a job.

If you are at the end of your rope, please do not give up.  Even in the darkest moments, there is always a way to turn things around if you will just keep on fighting.

Sadly, way too many people are giving up on life because of the economy.  In Europe, economic conditions have deteriorated so badly that there has been a dramatic increase in suicides.  The following is from a recent article in the New York Times….

The economic downturn that has shaken Europe for the last three years has also swept away the foundations of once-sturdy lives, leading to an alarming spike in suicide rates. Especially in the most fragile nations like Greece, Ireland and Italy, small-business owners and entrepreneurs are increasingly taking their own lives in a phenomenon some European newspapers have started calling “suicide by economic crisis.”

When the next major economic downturn happens in the United States, we will probably see a similar thing happen here too.

But people need to realize that our lives are not about how much stuff we own.

Even if every single thing is taken away from you and you are left with nothing that does not mean that your life is over.

Even if you have not been able to find a job for years, that does not mean that you should give up.

In life, everyone gets knocked down.

But unless you are dead, there is always a way to get things turned around in a more positive direction.

One thing that I have learned in life is that you must never, ever, ever, ever give up.

The years ahead are going to be really hard for the global economy, but that doesn't mean that they have to be horrible years for you.

The years ahead can be the very best years of your entire life, but that will never happen if you decide to simply give up.

How Government Should Cheat on the CPI

It's bad enough that the government measures inflation as "core inflation" excluding energy and food, as though we aren't buying those things. But now both parties want to save money by switching to another measure of inflation that substitutes the favorite things you buy for inferior products you don't want – because if you switch from steak to hamburger, then the new hamburger at the old price of the steak means NO INFLATION. Your life style may plummet, and your health may too, but that's besides the point, according to Bloomberg's mindless analysis.  ~ Ilene

How Government Should Cheat on the CPI – by Bloomberg Businessweek

Courtesy of Dr. Paul Price (at Real Money)

Those who fill our own gas tanks, pay utility bills, contract for our own healthcare and purchase groceries know intuitively that inflation has been quite high over the past few years. Government agencies tell us we’re wrong and that prices have only risen 2 – 3% annually. They love to speak about ‘core inflation’ which excludes food and energy. Please raise your hands if you don’t partake of those items and thus don’t care about their costs.

This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek (Apr. 30 – May 6, 2012 issue) proposes a bipartisan deficit fix they say would produce $300 Billion in combined savings and tax revenues over the next decade. How would they accomplish this? Switch from the current standard CPI calculation – the Bureau of Labor Statistics market basket of 80,000 goods and services weighted to reflect what they claim are consumer spending patterns- to the BLS’s chained CPI.

What is chained CPI? The BLS says that when prices for specific items go up, consumers often substitute lower-cost goods instead of buying their old favorites. While the standard CPI measures the same basket of goods every month the chained CPI would assume steak lovers would trade down to hamburger or Granny Smith apple fans would settle for lower priced oranges should apple prices surge. Bloomberg suggested that consumers might evenreact to price increases in one item by going to another category altogether. If ‘bacon and eggs’ gets too expensive, why not simply have some cold cereal?

This alternative measure of including price substitutions is literally an apples-to-oranges comparison rather than noting the change in prices of exactly the same goods and services from the month before, as the average person would expect.

The chained CPI would assume that higher absolute prices force people to ratchet down their standard of living rather than pay more to maintain their normal choices. BLS says that this would lower reported CPI by 0.25 to 0.35 percentage points versus the apples-to-apples standard CPI calculation.

The Congressional Budget Office [CBO] estimates that the lower, chained CPI, would save $112 billion in Cost of Living [COLA] adjustments to Social Security recipients alone over 10 years. They see another $33 billion in COLA savings from other indexed Federal spending such as pensions, plus adjustments of tax brackets, exemptions, credits and deductions.

Bloomberg notes that many people’s wages would then be rising faster than the newly adopted CPI index, generating another $90 billion in extra taxes due to bracket creep over the next decade. They claim it would also reduce interest payments on the debt from inflation-linked Treasury bonds [TIPS] by $44 billion more over the next 10 years.

Businessweek’s editorial mindset is to skew the reported numbers to lessen government outlays while raising taxes without any fanfare or public debate.

Bloomberg thinks that retirees, savers and taxpayers should all accept lower standards of living in order to fund $300 billion in extra taxes and/or forgone COLAs. Those who bought TIPs thinking they were getting true inflation protection, via honest reporting of government statistics, can go straight to hell. Do NOT pass GO, do NOT collect $200.

*****

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek's "Chained CPI Switch Is a Slam Dunk, Even in Election Year"

Sadly, Congress and the White House seem incapable of agreeing on substantive measures to tackle the $10.4 trillion mountain of U.S. debt.

But there is one long-overdue piece of important business that can and should get done: The adoption of a more accurate gauge of U.S. inflation that would yield immediate savings and help put the economy on firmer ground. The fix has already been endorsed by lawmakers in both parties, the Obama administration, many economists and a series of bipartisan deficit-reduction panels. Best of all, it would help shore up Social Security. Trustees for the retirement fund on April 23 projected it would run dry in 2033, three years earlier than last year’s forecast. (my emphasis)

Keep reading >

My thoughts: 

"All you can do is prey for a quick death, which you aint gonna get…"

Eurozone Retail Sales Plunge at Strongest Pace Since Late-2008

Eurozone Retail Sales Plunge at Strongest Pace Since Late-2008; German Retail Sales Plunge Into Contraction; French Retail Sales Plunge at Record Pace; Record Job Losses, Record Retail Plunge in Italy

Courtesy of Mish

The word of the day is plunge. Retail sales fell like a rock in Germany and fell at a record pace in France. Jobs and retail sales plunged at a record pace in Italy, and in general, did a nose-dive across the entire Eurozone

German Retail Sales Plunge Into Contraction

Please Consider the Markit Germany Retail PMI® Report.

Fastest drop in retail sales since April 2010 as year-and-a-half run of growth comes to an end.

Key points:

  • Retail PMI falls sharply in April
  • Steepest decline in margins for two years…
  • …despite wholesale price inflation hitting 15-month low

Sharp squeeze on operating margins

Lower sales and strong market competition resulted in a sharp and accelerated decline in margins across the German retail sector. The latest fall in margins was seventeenth in consecutive month and also the steepest for two years.

French Retail Sales Plunge at Record Pace

Please Consider the Markit France Retail PMI® Report.

 French retail sales fall at survey-record rate in April 

Key points:

  • Sales hit by weak economy and presidential elections
  • Targets missed to greatest degree in 18 months
  • Margin squeeze continues amid widespread discounting

French retailers reported a sharp reduction in sales during April. The month-on-month fall was the most marked recorded by the survey since data collection started in January 2004. Sales were also down considerably on a year-on-year basis, while previously set plans were again missed. The weak sales performance occurred despite evidence of substantial discounting and promotions among retailers, which resulted in a further steep drop in gross margins.

The headline Retail PMI® plunged to a series-record low of 41.4 in the latest month, from 50.2 in March. The latest reading was below the neutral 50.0 mark for the first time since January and indicative of a steep month-on-month decline.

The extent of the latest failure to meet targets was the greatest for one-and-a-half years. Panelists are nevertheless optimistic that sales will exceed previously set plans in May.

Factors expected by retailers to boost sales over the coming three months include the end of the presidential election, summer weather, promotions and new products.

Note the absurd level of optimism by French retailers.

Eurozone Retail Sales Plunge at Strongest Pace Since Late-2008

Please Consider the Markit Eurozone Retail PMI® Report.

 Key points:

  • Retail PMI plunges to 41.3, lowest since November 2008
  • All three countries surveyed post lower sales, with record decline in France
  • Cost pressures for retailers at 16-month low

Plunging to its second-lowest level on record in April, the PMI hit 41.3, down from 49.1 in March. The latest figure signaled the largest monthly fall in retail sales across the single currency area since the depths of the global financial crisis in November 2008 (40.6).

Eurozone retail PMI figures are based on responses from the three largest euro area economies. For the first time since September 2010, retail sales fell across Germany, France and Italy. The rate of contraction in Germany was the fastest since April 2010, while French retailers posted a survey-record drop as they reported disruption due to the presidential elections. Italy continued to see the steepest overall rate of decline, however, as the pace of contraction reaccelerated to approach the record level posted in January.

The annual rate of decline in Eurozone retail sales was also one of the strongest since the survey started in January 2004. Sales have fallen on an annual basis each month since last June.

Record Job Losses, Record Retail Plunge in Italy

Please Consider the Markit Italy Retail PMI® Report.

Sharp decrease in retail sales leads to survey-record job losses

Key points:

  • Sales fall at second-sharpest annual rate in series history
  • Confidence sinks to four-month low
  • Cost inflation slowest since December 2010

The seasonally adjusted Italian Retail PMI® – an indicator of month-on-month changes in total retail sales – fell to the greatest extent in survey history in April, dropping from 42.4 in March to 32.8. This sharp and accelerated decrease in high street spending was the second-fastest since December 2008, and extended the current sequence of contraction in the sector to 14 months.

Retailers in Italy sped up their rate of job shedding in April, with staffing levels falling at the fastest
pace since data were first compiled in January 2004. This latest reduction in employment was
primarily attributed by survey respondents to lower sales and rising input costs.

Vindication

For months I have been reading the apologists at Markit (and elsewhere) predict a short, shallow Eurozone recession.

Check this snip from my April 4, 2012 post: Eurozone Composite PMI® Signals Recession Says Markit; France in Renewed Decline, German Growth Weakens, Italy and Spain Contract Further:

 Chris Williamson, Chief Economist at Markit said:

“A slight easing in the rate of decline of the Eurozone service sector was insufficient to offset the first decline in manufacturing output for three months, causing the overall economy to contract again in March.

“With the exception of a marginal expansion seen in January, the economy has been in continual decline since last September. Although the average rate of decline seen over the first quarter eased compared with the final three months of last year, the survey data nevertheless indicate that the region has slipped back into a technical recession. 

“The downturn is currently only very mild, however, with gross domestic product probably falling by just 0.2% in the first quarter. Furthermore, with business confidence in the service sector running at a far higher level than late last year, the recession may also be brief.”

I have been critical of Market analysis for months and this is the worst yet.

First they said Germany would prevent a recession, then Germany would decouple, now they suggest this is only a "technical" recession and  the "the recession may be mild and brief".

The European recession will be neither mild nor brief. Spain, Portugal, and Greece are in economic depressions with no end in sight. Spain and Italy (the 3rd and 4th largest eurozone markets) are poised for steeper slides. Germany will not be immune to this as I have stated for months on end.

German manufacturing contracted in March and services sector will soon follow. For some reason, Markit economists cannot figure this out.

This was extremely easy to predict, yet most blew it.  

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

Depression in Spain: Unemployment Rate Up .5 Percentage Points to 23.6%; Expect Much Higher Rates Later This Year; When is the Breaking Point?

Depression in Spain: Unemployment Rate Up .5 Percentage Points to 23.6%; Expect Much Higher Rates Later This Year; When is the Breaking Point?

Courtesy of Mish

Via email from Barclays Capital, Spain: Q1 unemployment rate rises; trend likely to continue into H1 2013.

 This morning Spain released labour market statistics for Q1. Seasonally adjusted, the unemployment rate rose to 23.6% from 23.1% in Q4 last year (Figure 1). We think that the labour market's deterioration is likely to continue over the next 3-4 quarters. We look for unemployment to peak at nearly 26% in H1 2013, before slowly starting to decline.

Beyond cyclical lags, the Spanish labour market trend, to a large extent, is a reflection of the hangover from a boom-bust in the construction sector, which for many years has been an important source of employment growth (Figure 2). It seems that the adjustment in the construction sector's employment is close to an end: it now contributes c.10% to total employment, in line with the long-term average pre the housing sector boom.

However, we think that the unemployment rate is likely to stay elevated for a while and that it will decline only slowly as the economy likely starts to grow in H2 2013. There are at least two reasons for our view: 1) fiscal consolidation will negatively affect consumers' spending, economic activity and consequently employment; 2) As we pointed out in Spain: Assessing the fiscal and labour market reforms, we think that Spain needs better "active labour market policies" that can address long-term unemployment (Figure 3) and the retraining of young (in some cases) low-skilled unemployed workers (Figure 4).

click on chart for sharper image

Depression in Spain

It is difficult to know precisely when Spanish unemployment stops going up. I see no reason it cannot hit 28% or even 30%.

Spanish politicians (for now) remain insanely committed to the Euro. How long the citizens remain committed to the Eurozone is another matter.

When is the Breaking Point?

Will the general population of Spain put up with an unemployment rate of 28%? 30%? I think not, but I do not know the precise breaking point. Whatever it is, Spain has little chance for growth prospects for a decade as long as it remains in the eurozone.

Eventually will come a time when a politician will hold up a copy of the EMU treaty, declare it null and void, and the debt null and void right along with it. That politician will be elected. 

Spain will be better off as soon as that happens.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

Robert Wenzel's 'David' Speech Crushes Federal Reserve's 'Goliath' Dream

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

In perhaps the most courageous (and likely must-read for future economists) speech ever given inside the New York Fed's shallowed hallowed walls, Economic Policy Journal's Robert Wenzel delivered the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the monetary priesthood. Gracious from the start, Wenzel takes the Keynesian clap-trappers to task on almost every nonsensical and oblivious decision they have made in recent years.

"My views, I suspect, differ from beginning to end… I stand here confused as to how you see the world so differently than I do. I simply do not understand most of the thinking that goes on here at the Fed and I do not understand how this thinking can go on when in my view it smacks up against reality."

and further…

"I scratch my head that somehow your conclusions about unemployment are so different than mine and that you call for the printing of money to boost 'demand'. A call, I add, that since the founding of the Federal Reserve has resulted in an increase of the money supply by 12,230%."

But his closing was tremendous:

"Let’s have one good meal here. Let’s make it a feast. Then I ask you, I plead with you, I beg you all, walk out of here with me, never to come back. It’s the moral and ethical thing to do. Nothing good goes on in this place. Let’s lock the doors and leave the building to the spiders, moths and four-legged rats."

The Full Speech is below:

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak here at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

Intellectual discourse is, of course, extraordinarily valuable in reaching truth. In this sense, I welcome the opportunity to discuss my views on the economy and monetary policy and how they may differ with those of you here at the Fed.

That said, I suspect my views are so different from those of you here today that my comments will be a complete failure in convincing you to do what I believe should be done, which is to close down the entire Federal Reserve System

My views, I suspect, differ from beginning to end. From the proper methodology to be used in the science of economics, to the manner in which the macro-economy functions, to the role of the Federal Reserve, and to the accomplishments of the Federal Reserve, I stand here confused as to how you see the world so differently than I do.

I simply do not understand most of the thinking that goes on here at the Fed and I do not understand how this thinking can go on when in my view it smacks up against reality.

Please allow me to begin with methodology, I hold the view developed by such great economic thinkers as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Murray Rothbard that there are no constants in the science of economics similar to those in the  physical sciences.

In the science of physics, we know that water freezes at 32 degrees. We can predict with immense accuracy exactly how far a rocket ship will travel filled with 500 gallons of fuel. There is preciseness because there are constants, which do not change and upon which equations can be constructed.

There are no such constants in the field of economics since the science of economics deals with human action, which can change at any time. If potato prices remain the same for 10 weeks, it does not mean they will be the same the following day. I defy anyone in this room to provide me with a constant in the field of economics that has the same unchanging constancy that exists in the fields of physics or chemistry.

And yet, in paper after paper here at the Federal Reserve, I see equations built as though constants do exist. It is as if one were to assume a constant relationship existed between interest rates here and in Russia and throughout the world, and create equations based on this belief and then attempt to trade based on these equations. That was tried and the result was the blow up of the fund Long Term Capital Management, a blow up that resulted in high level meetings in this very building.

It is as if traders assumed a given default rate was constant for subprime mortgage paper and traded on that belief. Only to see it blow up in their faces, as it did,  again, with intense meetings being held in this very building.

Yet, the equations, assuming constants, continue to be published in papers throughout the Fed system. I scratch my head.

I also find curious the general belief in the Keynesian model of the economy that somehow results in the belief that demand drives the economy, rather than production. I look out at the world and see iPhones, iPads, microwave ovens, flat screen televisions, which suggest to me that it is production that boosts an economy. Without production of these things and millions of other items, where would we be? Yet, the Keynesians in this room will reply, “But you need demand to buy these products.” And I will reply, “Do you not believe in supply and demand? Do you not believe that products once made will adjust to a market clearing price?”

Further , I will argue that the price of the factors of production will adjust to prices at the consumer level and that thus the markets at all levels will clear. Again do you believe in supply and demand or not?

I scratch my head that somehow most of you on some academic level believe in the theory of supply and demand and how market setting prices result, but yet you deny them in your macro thinking about the economy.

You will argue with me that prices are sticky on the downside, especially labor prices and therefore that you must pump money to get the economy going. And,  I will look on in amazement as your fellow Keynesian brethren in the government create an environment  of sticky non-downward bending wages.

The economist  Robert Murphy reports that President  Herbert Hoover continually pressured businessmen to not lower wages.

He quoted Hoover in a speech delivered to a group of businessmen:

In this country there has been a concerted and determined effort  on the part of government and business… to prevent any reduction in wages.

He then reports that FDR actually outdid Hoover by seeking to “raise wages rates rather than merely put a floor under them.”

I ask you, with presidents actively conducting policies that attempt to defy supply and demand and prop up wages, are you really surprised that wages were sticky downward during the Great Depression?

In present day America, the government focus has changed a bit. In the new focus, the government  attempts much more to prop up the unemployed by extended payments for not working. Is it really a surprise that unemployment is so high when you pay people not to work.? The 2010 Nobel Prize was awarded to economists for their studies which showed that, and I quote from the Noble press release announcing the award:

One conclusion is that more generous unemployment benefits give rise to higher unemployment and longer search times.

Don’t you think it would make more sense to stop these policies which are a direct factor in causing unemployment, than to add to the mess and devalue the currency by printing more money?

I scratch my head that somehow your conclusions about unemployment are so different than mine  and that you call for the printing of money to boost “demand”. A call, I add, that since the founding of the Federal Reserve has resulted in an increase of the money supply by 12,230%.

I also must scratch my head at the view that the Federal Reserve should maintain a stable price level. What is wrong with having falling prices across the economy, like we now have in the computer sector, the flat screen television sector and the cell phone sector? Why, I ask, do you want stable prices? And, oh by the way, how’s that stable price thing going for you here at the Fed?

Since the start of the Fed, prices have increased at the consumer level by 2,241% [3]. that’s not me misspeaking, I will repeat, since the start of the Fed, prices have increased at the consumer level by 2,241%.

So you then might tell me that stable prices are only a secondary goal of the Federal Reserve and that your real goal is to prevent serious declines in the economy but, since the start of the Fed, there have been 18 recessions including the Great Depression and the most recent Great Recession. These downturns  have resulted in stock market crashes, tens of  millions of unemployed and untold business bankruptcies.

I scratch my head and wonder how you think the Fed is any type of success when all this has occurred.

I am especially confused, since Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT), developed by Mises, Hayek and Rothbard, has warned about all these things. According to ABCT, it is central bank money printing that causes the business cycle and, again you here at the Fed have certainly done that by increasing the money supply. Can you imagine the distortions in the economy caused by the Fed by this massive money printing?

According to ABCT, if you print money those sectors where the money goes  will boom, stop printing and those sectors will crash. Fed printing tends to find its way to Wall Street and other capital goods sectors first, thus it is no surprise to Austrian school economists that the crashes are most dramatic in these sectors, such as the stock market and real estate sectors. The economist Murray Rothbard in his book America’s Great Depression [4] went into painstaking detail outlining how the changes in money supply growth resulted in the Great Depression.

On a more personal level, as the recent crisis was developing here, I warned throughout the summer of 2008 of the impending crisis. On July 11, 2008 at EconomicPolicyJournal.com, I wrote:

SUPER ALERT: Dramatic Slowdown In Money Supply Growth

After growing at near double digit rates for months, money growth has slowed dramatically. Annualized money growth over the last 3 months is only 5.2%. Over the last two months, there has been zero growth in the M2NSA money measure.

This is something that must be watched carefully. If such a dramatic slowdown continues, a severe recession is inevitable.

We have never seen such a dramatic change in money supply growth from a double digit climb to 5% growth. Does Bernanke have any clue as to what the hell he is doing?

On July 20, 2008, I wrote:

I have previously noted that over the last two months money supply has been collapsing. M2NSA has gone from double digit growth to nearly zero growth.

A review of the credit situation appears worse. According to recent Fed data, for the 13 weeks ended June 25, bank credit (securities and loans) contracted at an annual rate of 7.9%.

There has been a minor blip up since June 25 in both credit growth and M2NSA, but the growth rates remain extremely slow.

If a dramatic turnaround in these numbers doesn't happen within the next few weeks, we are going to have to warn of a possible Great Depression style downturn.

Yet, just weeks before these warnings from me, Chairman Bernanke, while the money supply growth was crashing, had a decidedly much more optimistic outlook, In a speech on June 9, 2008, At the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s 53rd Annual Economic Conference [7], he said:

I would like to provide a brief update on the outlook for the economy and policy, beginning with the prospects for growth.  Despite the unwelcome rise in the unemployment rate that was reported last week, the recent incoming data, taken as a whole, have affected the outlook for economic activity and employment only modestly.  Indeed, although activity during the current quarter is likely to be weak, the risk that the economy has entered a substantial downturn appears to have diminished over the past month or so.  Over the remainder of 2008, the effects of monetary and fiscal stimulus, a gradual ebbing of the drag from residential construction, further progress in the repair of financial and credit markets, and still-solid demand from abroad should provide some offset to the headwinds that still face the economy.

I believe the Great Recession that followed is still fresh enough in our minds so it is not necessary to recount in detail as to whose forecast, mine or the chairman’s, was more accurate.

I am also confused by many other policy making steps here at the Federal Reserve. There have been more changes in monetary policy direction during the Bernanke era then at any other time in the modern era of the Fed. Not under Arthur Burns, not under G. William Miller, not under Paul Volcker, not under Alan Greenspan  have there been so many dramatically shifting Fed monetary policy moves. Under Chairman Bernanke there have been significant changes in direction of the money supply growth FIVE different times. Thus, for me, I am not at all surprised at the current stop and go economy. The current erratic monetary policy makes it exceedingly difficult for businessmen to make any long term plans.  Indeed, in my own Daily Alert on the economy [8] I find it extremely difficult to give long term advice, when in short periods I have seen three month annualized M2 money growth go from near 20% to near zero, and then in another period see it go from 25% to 6%.

I am also confused by many of the monetary programs instituted by Chairman Bernanke. For example, Operation Twist.

This is not the first time an Operation Twist was tried. an Operation Twist was tried in 1961, at the start of the Kennedy Administration [10] A paper [11] was written by three Federal Reserve economists in 2004 that, in part, examined the 1960's Operation Twist

Their conclusion (My bold):

A second well-known historical episode involving the attempted manipulation of the term structure was so-called Operation Twist.  Launched in early 1961 by the incoming Kennedy Administration, Operation Twist was intended to raise short-term rates (thereby promoting capital inflows and supporting the dollar) while lowering, or at least not raising, long-term rates. (Modigliani and Sutch 1966)…. The two main actions of Operation Twist were the use of Federal Reserve open market operations and Treasury debt management operations..Operation Twist is widely viewed today as having been a failure, largely due to classic work by  Modigliani and Sutch….

However, Modigliani and Sutch also noted that Operation Twist was a relatively small operation, and, indeed, that over a slightly longer period the maturity of outstanding government debt rose significantly, rather than falling…Thus, Operation Twist does not seem to provide strong evidence in either direction as to the possible effects of changes in the composition of the central bank’s balance sheet…

We believe that our findings go some way to refuting the strong hypothesis that nonstandard policy actions, including quantitative easing and targeted asset purchases, cannot be successful in a modern industrial economy.  However, the effects of such policies remain quantitatively quite uncertain.

One of the authors of this 2004 paper was Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke. Thus, I have to ask, what the hell is Chairman Bernanke doing implementing such a program, since it is his paper that states it was a failure according to Modigliani, and his paper implies that a larger test would be required to determine true performance.

I ask, is the Chairman using the United States economy as a lab with Americans as the lab rats to test his intellectual curiosity about such things as Operation Twist?

Further, I am very confused by the response of Chairman Bernanke to questioning by Congressman Ron Paul. To a seemingly near off the cuff question by Congressman Paul on Federal Reserve money provided to the Watergate burglars, Chairman Bernanke contacted the Inspector General’s Office of the Federal Reserve and requested an investigation [12]. Yet, the congressman has regularly asked about the gold certificates held by the Federal Reserve [13] and whether the gold at Fort Knox backing up the certificates will be audited. Yet there have been no requests by the Chairman  to the Treasury for an audit of the gold.This I find very odd. The Chairman calls for a major investigation of what can only be an historical point of interest but fails to seek out any confirmation on a point that would be of vital interest to many present day Americans.

In this very building, deep in the underground vaults, sits billions of dollars of gold, held by the Federal Reserve  for foreign governments. The Federal Reserve gives regular tours of these vaults, even to school children. [14] Yet, America’s gold is off limits to seemingly everyone and has never been properly audited. Doesn’t that seem odd to you? If nothing else, does anyone at the Fed know the quality and fineness of the gold at Fort Knox?

In conclusion, it is my belief  that from start to finish  the Fed is a failure. I believe faulty methodology is used, I believe that  the justification for the Fed, to bring price and economic stability, has never been a success. I repeat, prices since the start of the Fed have climbed by 2,241% and there have been over the same period 18 recessions. No one seems to care at the Fed about the gold supposedly backing up the gold certificates on the Fed balance sheet. The emperor has no clothes.  Austrian Business cycle theorists are regularly ignored by the Fed, yet they have the best records with regard to spotting overall downturns, and further they specifically recognized the developing housing bubble. Let it not be forgotten that in 2004, two economists here at the New York Fed wrote a paper [15] denying there was a housing bubble. I responded to the paper [16] and wrote:

The faulty analysis by [these] Federal Reserve economists… may go down in financial history as the greatest forecasting error since Irving Fisher declared in 1929, just prior to the stock market crash, that stocks prices looked to be at a permanently high plateau.

Data released just yesterday, now show housing prices have crashed to  2002 levels.

I will now give you more warnings about the economy.

The noose is tightening on your organization, vast amounts of money printing are now required to keep your manipulated economy afloat. It will ultimately result in huge price inflation, or,  if you stop printing, another massive economic crash will occur. There is no other way out.

Again, thank you for inviting me. You have prepared food, so I will not be rude, I will stay and eat.

Let’s have one good meal here. Let’s make it a feast. Then I ask you, I plead with you, I beg you all, walk out of here with me, never to come back. It’s the moral and ethical thing to do. Nothing good goes on in this place. Let’s lock the doors and leave the building to the spiders, moths and four-legged rats.

Mind Blowing Economic Charts – First Time Claims, The Stock Market, and The Fed

Courtesy of Lee Adler of the Wall Street Examiner

Improvement in first time unemployment claims is slowing. Actual, not seasonally manipulated data, including an adjustment for the usual weekly upward revision, shows that the year to year rate of change is on the cusp of a possible upside breakout, which would be good news for stock market bears if it happens.

Initial Unemployment Claims Chart- Click to enlarge

Initial Unemployment Claims Chart- Click to enlarge

Here’s why it’s mind blowing. I’ve plotted it below on an inverse scale with the S&P 500 overlaid.

Unemployemt Claims and Stock Prices - Click to enlarge

Unemployemt Claims and Stock Prices – Click to enlarge

That speaks for itself. As the improvement in claims has slowed, so have the gains in stock prices.

What’s the Fed’s role in all this? The chart below illustrates. As I have told my subscribers for years, the Fed triggered both the financial crash and the economic collapse when it pulled cash out of its System Open Market Account to fund the direct bailouts of AIG, Goldman Sacks and Pillages, Citi, DoucheBank et. al. Doing that crushed Lehman and other shaky Primary Dealers. Great for the ones that got the free money, bad for everybody else, especially working people and old retired people with a few bucks in savings. Yes, the depression would have happened anyway. The Fed just made it happen faster, more violently, and worse than it would have been, by transferring wealth from middle class workers and savers to the Lloyd Blankfiends and Jamie Demons of the world.

Unemployment and The Fed Chart- Click to enlarge

Unemployment and The Fed Chart- Click to enlarge

Lately, the Fed has gotten away with not growing its balance sheet because it is continuing to surreptitiously fund, cash out, and prop up the Primary Dealer casinos that own the Strip, …oops… the Street, to the tune of $30 billion a month in MBS buys. As long as it has done that, the layoffs and firings have continued to slow. There is zero chance that Fed will end this program in June because it knows what happens when it lets its balance sheet shrink, which it would if the MBS purchase end. Twist, the Treasury swap program is just a sideshow. The real game is the MBS replacements. That show must go on.

The Fed saw in the second round of QE that the trickle down theory of pimping the stock market to get the economy going just wasn’t paying the desired returns employment wise, and it was giving the old white farts around the table heartburn and gas because of the runaway rise in energy and commodity prices that it was causing. They denied responsibility. But we knew.

So Ben decided that it was time for the FOMClub to sit on their fat cat asses and just quietly keep feeding their Primary Dealer godfathers while continuing to starve all the little old retirees with a few bucks in a savings account. Oh, that’s right. Nothing left! As Paul Krugman says, ZIRP doesn’t matter because seniors live on Social Security, not savings.

That’s because they were forced to spend it all, you smug, clueless, craven, conscienceless intellectual fraud.

So there you have it, a couple of charts of the slings and arrows outrageous fortune, and the out of left field barbs that go with them when I get on a roll.

Until next time… with love.

 

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