Archives for October 2014

NASA Rocket With Russian-Made Engine Explodes On Takeoff; Ironies Abound

 

NASA Rocket With Russian-Made Engine Explodes On Takeoff; Ironies Abound

Courtesy of Mish.

Sanctions or not, NASA uses Russian-made engines to propel rockets.

Yesterday, just seconds after takeoff, a NASA Antares rocket with a Russian-made engine exploded on takeoff. The mission was to carry supplies to the orbiting space station.

Today, the Guardian reports that Russian rocket manufacturer insists it is not to blame for Antares crash.

The Russian maker of the engine used in the unmanned US supply rocket that exploded after liftoff in Virginia denied on Wednesday that its product was at fault for the catastrophe.

The launch phase of the Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket relied on two AJ-26 engines that were originally produced in the 1970s for a failed Soviet moon program and later modernised for US space flights. Speculation quickly centered on the Soviet-based engines, which have failed in tests, when the rocket exploded in a giant fireball after takeoff on Tuesday night.

But the Kuznetsov company in the Russian city of Samara suggested the blame lay not with its NK-33 engines, which formed the basis for the AJ-26 engines, but rather with their later modification in the United States, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Investigators from Nasa were scouring the site of the failed launch in Virginia by helicopter on Wednesday as they attempted to assess the extent of damage to the Wallops Flight Facility, which is owned by the agency. Engineers working for Orbital Science were trying to work out what caused the failure of the company’s $200m rocket, which forced the cargo mission resupplying the International Space Station to be aborted seconds after launch.

The launch was the first time the Antares rocket had been launched at night from Wallops, and the fireball caused by its explosion could be seen from miles around.

The accident is likely to intensify scrutiny over Nasa’s deal to subcontract resupply missions to private space operators following the end of its shuttle programme.

Orbital is under particular pressure to explain whether its use of ageing Russian rocket engines to power the first stage of the Antares rocket was a factor.

Kuznetsov argued that its NK-33 engines had undergone significant modernisation in the United States, including the addition of new components to direct the rocket’s thrust vector. “The development and certification of all new systems were done by the American side without Kuznetsov specialists. In essence, the AJ-26 engine is undergoing flight tests,” it said.

The NK-33 engines were first developed for the Soviet Union’s N-1 moon rocket, but many of them wound up in storage when that program was cancelled after several launch failures. The US company Aerojet Rocketdyne reportedly bought about 40 of the Soviet engines in the 1990s and began modifying them for use in US rockets. The resulting AJ-26 engine has suffered some failures during tests: one caught fire in 2011, and another being tested in May before use in an Antares flight burned up….

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Mortgage Purchase Applications Plunge To 19-Year Lows

The third chart shows that since around 2007, the correlation between interest rates and mortgage applications is more positive than negative, i.e. rates and number of applications are going in the same direction, mostly down. The spike in applications from around 1996 through 2005 could be attributed to the housing bubble (chart 2), but the failure of the apps to regain an upward move argues against any real recovery for the average, non-0.1%er, person. ~ Ilene 

Mortgage Purchase Applications Plunge To 19-Year Lows

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Presented with little comment because realistically what is there to say about a so-called 'housing recovery' when the volume of applications for home purchases is the lowest since August 1995. Keep believing that lower rates will support home prices… keep believing the Fed's QE worked… or face facts, this is not your mother's housing market any more…

The Recovery…

 

The long-term…

 

The transmission channel is officially broken…

 

Charts: Bloomberg

Good Riddance To QE – It Was Just Plain Financial Fraud

 

Courtesy of David Stockman via Contra Corner

QE has finally come to an end, but public comprehension of the immense fraud it embodied has not even started. In round terms, this official counterfeiting spree amounted to $3.5 trillion— reflecting the difference between the Fed’s approximate $900 billion balance sheet when its “extraordinary policies” incepted at the time of the Lehman crisis and its $4.4 trillion of footings today. That’s a lot of something for nothing. It’s a grotesque amount of fraud.

The scam embedded in this monumental balance sheet expansion involved nothing so arcane as the circuitous manner by which new central bank reserves supplied to the banking system impact the private credit creation process. As is now evident, new credits issued by the Fed can result in the expansion of private credit to the extent that the money multiplier is operating or simply generate excess reserves which cycle back to the New York Fed if, as in the present instance, it is not.

But the fact that the new reserves generated during QE have cycled back to the Fed does not mitigate the fraud. The latter consists of the very act of buying these trillions of treasuries and GSE securities in the first place with fiat credits manufactured by the central bank. When the Fed does QE, its open market desk buys treasury notes and, in exchange, it simply deposits in dealer bank accounts new credits made out of thin air. As it happened, about $3.5 trillion of such fiat credits were conjured from nothing during the last 72 months.

All of these bonds had permitted Washington to command the use of real economic resources. That is, to consume goods and services it obtained directly in the form of payrolls, contractor services, military tanks and ammo etc; and, indirectly, in the form of the basket of goods and services typically acquired by recipients of government transfer payments. Stated differently, the goods and services purchased via monetizing $3.5 trillion of government debt embodied a prior act of production and supply. But the central bank exchanged them for an act of nothing.

Contrast this monetization process with honest funding of government debt in the private market. In the latter event, the public treasury taps savings from producers and income earners and re-allocates it to government purchases rather than private investments. This has the inherent effect of pushing up interest rates and, on the margin, squeezing out private investment. It is a zero sum game in which savings retained from existing production are reallocated.

To be sure, the economic effect is invariably lower investment, productivity and growth down the line, but the process is at least honest. When the public debt is financed from savings, government purchase of goods and services are funded with the fruits of prior production. There is no exchange of something for nothing; there is no financial fraud.

And it is the fraudulent finance of public deficits which is the real evil of QE because the ill effects go far beyond the standard saw that there is nothing wrong with central bank monetization of the public debt unless is causes visible inflation of consumer prices. In fact, however, it does cause enormous inflation, but of financial asset values, not the CPI.

Despite the spurious implication to the contrary, central banks have not repealed the law of supply and demand in the financial markets. Accordingly, their massive purchases of the public debt create an artificial bid and, therefore, false price. Moreover, government debt functions as the “risk free” benchmark for pricing all other fixed income assets such as home mortgages, corporate debt and junk bonds; and also numerous classes of real assets which are typically heavily leveraged such as commercial real estate and leased aircraft.

In short, massive monetization of the public debt results in the systematic repression of the “cap rate” on which the entire financial system functions. And when the cap rate gets artificially pushed down to sub-economic levels the result is systematic over-valuation of all financial assets, and the excessive accumulation of debt to finance non-value added financial engineering schemes such as stock buybacks and the overwhelming share of M&A transactions.

Needless to say, the false prices which result from massive monetization do not stay within the canyons of Wall Street or even the corporate business sector. In effect, they ride the Amtrak to Washington where they also deceive politicians about the true cost of carrying the public debt. At the present time, the weighted average cost of the $13 trillion in publicly held federal debt is at least 200 basis points below a market clearing economic level—–meaning that debt service costs are understated by upwards of $300 billion annually.

At the end of the day, the fraud of massive monetization makes the rich richer because it drastically inflates the value of financial assets—–roughly 80% of which is held by the top 5% of households; and it makes the state more bloated and profligate because its enables the politicians to spend without imposing the pain of taxation or the crowding out effects which result from honest borrowing out of society’s savings pool.

In the more wholesome times before 1914, the Federal government didn’t borrow at all. During the half-century between the battle of Gettysburg and the eve of World War I, the public debt did not rise in nominal terms, and amounted to just $1.5 billion or 4% of GDP at the time of the Fed’s creation.  Even then, the Fed was established as only a “bankers bank” which could not own a dime of public debt, but instead existed for the narrow mission of liquefying the banking market by means of discounting solid commercial paper on receivables and inventory for ready cash.

The modern form of monetization arose in the service of financing war bonds, not managing the business cycle, levitating the GDP or boosting the labor market toward the artifice of “full employment”. These latter purposes reflect a century of “mission creep” and the triumph of the statist assumption that governments can actually tame the business cycle and elevate the trend rate of economic growth.

But history refutes that conceit. In the early post-war period, central bank interventions mainly caused short term bouts of unsustainable credit growth and an inflationary spiral which eventually had to be cured by monetary stringency and recession. In the process of repetition over several decades culminating in the 2008 crisis, the household and business leverage ratios were steadily ratcheted upwards until the reached peak sustainable debt.

Now the credit channel of monetary policy transmission is broken and done. The Fed’s most recent massive monetization and “stimulus” has therefore simply inflated financial asset values—-meaning that the Fed has become a serial bubble machine.

There is a better way, and it contrasts sharply with the systematic fraud of QE. That alternative is called the free market, and at the heart of the latter is interest rates which are “discovered” by the market, not pegged and administered by the central bank. Stated differently, the free market requires that all debt and other forms of investment be funded out of society’s pool of honest savings—-that is, income that is retained out of production already made.

Under that regime there is no fraudulent bid for public debt and other existing assets based on something for nothing. Markets clear where they will, and interest rates are the mechanism by which the supply of honest savings and the demand for investment capital, including working capital, are balanced out.

Needless to say, free market interest rates are the bane of Wall Street speculators and Washington spenders alike. They can spike to sudden and dramatic heights when demand for funds to finance government deficits or financial speculation out-run the voluntary pool of savings generated by society. So doing, they bring financial bubbles and fiscal profligacy up short.

In stopping QE after a massive spree of monetization, the Fed is actually taking a tiny step toward liberating the interest rate and re-establishing honest finance. But don’t bother to inform our monetary politburo. As soon as the current massive financial bubble begins to burst, it  will doubtless invent some new excuse to resume central bank balance sheet expansion and therefore fraudulent finance.

But this time may be different. Perhaps even the central banks have reached the limits of credibility—- that is, their own equivalent of peak debt.

“I think QE is quite effective,” Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, describing the approach as an option for dealing with an adverse shock to the economy.

Why Does the U.S. Senate Need a Petition Drive to Hold Hearings on the Secret Goldman Sachs’ Tapes

Courtesy of Pam Martens.

Traders at the New York Fed Have Speed Dials to Wall Street's Biggest Firms

Traders at the New York Fed Have Speed Dials to Wall Street’s Biggest Firms

It appears that Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown believe they may have a battle on their hands getting their colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee to agree to hold hearings on the now notorious tape recordings secretly made by former New York Fed bank examiner, Carmen Segarra, showing a cozy relationship between the regulator and Goldman Sachs.

Petitions have sprung up all over the internet, with more than 129,000 signatures as of this morning, demanding that Congress hold hearings to investigate whether the Federal Reserve System, and specifically the New York Fed, function as merely sycophantic fronts for Wall Street or if they serve any meaningful regulatory role.

In addition to petitions at Credo, MoveOn.org and Public Citizen, campaign sites for Senators Warren and Brown have also set up petitions, but those sites do not show how many signatures have been collected.

As of this morning, the Credo petition had 98,107 signatures out of a goal of 150,000. You can sign the petition here. The petition makes its case as follows:

“To Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives:

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MH17-Chief Investigator Investigates Possibility of Air-to-Air Missile, Seeks Cooperation From Russia

Courtesy of Mish.

Spiegel Online interviews Fred Westerbeke, the Dutch lead investigator of flight MH17 crash.

Westerbeke states that a surface-to-air missile is the most likely scenario, but he also discusses “secret satellite images and a possible involvement of the Ukrainian military.”

Here are edited interview snips from MH17-Chief Investigator Westerbeke: “Do the Russians Have More Evidence?”

Who shot flight MH17 from over Eastern Ukraine? The Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke directs international investigation. He talks about secret satellite images and a possible involvement of the Ukrainian military.

Spiegel: Mr. Westerbeke, your job as chief prosecutor sounds hardly solvable: MH17 flight was shot down over a civil war zone, even now, three months later, your crime scene investigator for is not available. What gives you hope someday to be able to bring someone to court?

Westerbeke: The Netherlands does not determine in the case so alone. There is a very good cooperation with police and prosecutors, especially in Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine. It is not easy. But we can do it.

Spiegel: In what period of time?

Westerbeke: Look at Lockerbie, the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo in December 1988 with 270 deaths. At that time, it took three years before you could name those responsible. We will certainly need the whole next year for our work, and perhaps even longer.

Spiegel: The Federal Intelligence Service BND assumes that pro-Russian separatists have shot down the machine with a surface to air missile. Recently some German parliamentarians corresponding satellite images were presented. Do you know these recordings?

Westerbeke: The problem is that there are very many different satellite images: Some of them can be found on the Internet, others come from foreign intelligence agencies.

Spiegel: High-resolution images, for example from US spy satellites could play a crucial role in the investigation of the case. Did you get those shots of the Americans?

Westerbeke: We are not sure if we already have everything, or whether there are more – material that may be even more specific. What we present is certainly not enough to draw any conclusions. We remain in contact with the United States to get satellite images….

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Fed Again Issues Surreptitious SNAP Payments to Bankster Welfare Queens At Taxpayer Expense

Courtesy of Lee Adler of the Wall Street Examiner

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UPDATE- The Fed renewed its Term Deposit facility a couple of weeks ago initially taking in $110 billion in 7 day deposits paying 26 basis points. That amount rose to $219 billion today from 69 banks. Since these payments reduce the surplus which the Fed returns to the US Treasury, the taxpayer bears the cost of the program. The US taxpayer is now on the hook for a direct subsidy to the banks on excess cash which the Fed handed them for nothing in the first place. This is an outrage. Below are the post and video I originally wrote and produced on this on June 20, 2014.

 

June 20, 2014 – Here’s something I missed back in May that makes me mad as hell. And it should make you mad as hell too.

The Fed has expanded its Term Deposit Operations, moving more spaghetti around on the plate, the plate being the liability side of its balance sheet- aka “money.” The Fed announced that it would do 8 weekly operations with its member banks beginning on May 19. The first 4 are at approximately 26 basis points, then the next 4 at 30 basis points. These deposits are like bank CDs with a term of 7 days.

This is a direct giveaway to the banks at the expense of US taxpayers. Subject to the $10 billion per bank limit, the banks will shift as much of their excess cash as they can from their regular deposit accounts at the Fed (aka reserves) to these higher interest bearing term deposits. This is cash which the Fed has given them for free in the first place. Earn free income from free money. Nice work if you can get it.

Last week those term deposits grew by $16 billion on the Fed’s balance sheet from an operation conducted June 2. That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming. The June 9 operation shifted $78 billion into these giveaways.

Meanwhile the Fed will continue to send them more free cash, week in and week out under QE, even though those amounts are somewhat reduced. The trick there is that the Taper does not reduce the excess cash the dealers get because the Fed has been matching QE to Treasury supply. That’s a whole ‘nother story, however, which I cover in depth in the weekly Fed Report (next one coming up this afternoon).

This will have absolutely no impact on the Fed’s balance sheet or the Primary Dealer Balance sheets. They’re still short term liabilities to the Fed and short term assets of the banks. To the banks, there’s no practical difference between their regular deposits at the Fed and a one week term deposit. It’s all excess liquidity which can be used for mischief making whenever they damn well please. The only impact will be that the additional free income the Fed now literally hands over to the banks will increase the banks’ bottom lines. This cash will subsequently be transferred to the pockets of bank CEOs and executives in the form of increased bonuses and stock option buybacks.

These payments reduce the surplus that the Fed returns to the Treasury each month. The $78 billion of these term deposits which the Fed issued last week will show up on the H41 to be published this Thursday. The interest paid to the banks on that will come right out of taxpayers’ pockets. It’s just more welfare for the banksters at our expense.  It’s an outrage.

Another outrage–this story has gotten virtually no coverage in the mainstream media. Either the Fed snuck this past them, or the media just does not care. I suspect the latter.

BREAKING- This week’s facility was just posted. It grew to $93 billion. More money for nothing- a gift to the banks from taxpayers. The greatest transfer of wealth in history goes on.

Get regular updates on the machinations of the Fed, Treasury, Primary Dealers and foreign central banks in the US market, in the Fed Report in the Professional Edition, Money Liquidity, and Real Estate Package. Click this link to try WSE's Professional Edition risk free for 30 days!

Copyright © 2012 The Wall Street Examiner. All Rights Reserved. 

 

Dead Man’s Party

Courtesy of Tim Knight from Slope of Hope.

About five blocks from my house is the residence of Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo who is famous for being employee #7 at Google, very smartvery vain, and (mildly) good-looking. At the midpoint between our two houses is a funeral home which, oddly, she decided to buy a couple of years ago………

1029-buyfuneral

I've long wondered what on earth she planned to do with the place, which is right across the street from Addison Elementary School. Well, it turns out she thought it would be a cool place to host a party now and then (I guess if you have a nine-figure net worth, buying an $11 million funeral home just to lost the occasional party is an option). Here's a posting on the Palo Alto Online web site…………

1029-bash

Of course, people in the neighborhood were not that thrilled with all the revelry, and some folks, understandably, thought that converting a funeral home (which had been the site for thousands of people to bid their final farewell to their dearly departed) into a party shack was not in the best of taste………

1029-pissed

I tell you, the Silicon Valley is just getting weirder and weirder. I'm seeing things I've never seen before in the thirty years that I've lived here, including this utterly bizarre stunt. Signs of the times, people. Signs of the times.

1029-marissa

Life Lessons To Derive From QE And Stress Tests

Courtesy of The Automatic Earth



Arthur Rothstein Texas Panhandle Dust Bowl Mar 1936

 

I already proposed a few days ago that the recent ECB stress test exercise was such a shambles, it may well have been designed to fail on purpose. In order for Mario Draghi and his Goldman made men to be freed from that pesky German resistance against full blown QE, i.e. large scale purchases of government bonds from the 18 countries that make up the eurozone.

And perhaps the other 10 that are part of the EU without using the common currency. The sky’s the limit. Just how bad that would be is hinted by Tracy Alloway for the FT as she describes how QE tempts investors into asset classes with far more risk than they should have on their hands, simply because they feel the Fed – or some other central bank – has their back.

Sounds like the perfect way to separate a whole lot of people from their money. Which is why Draghi is so tempted to try it on. QE destroys societies, economies and financial systems, it doesn’t heal them. So maybe it’s a touch of genius that the great powers of global finance have first pushed Keynes into the academic world and then academics like Bernanke and Yellen into positions such as head of the Fed, making everyone blind to the fact that what they think is beneficial, including many who think they’re real smart, actually hurts them most.

When you looked at it in that light, you would be forgiven for thinking Draghi had better hurry, because higher rates and a higher dollar will give away much of that game. And not just in America.

But Stupor Mario has one great excuse left: his hands are tied. Not for long anymore, perhaps, since the ECB is set to become the sole EU banking supervisor, but that is not the same as having a full banking union, the prize the real big banking boys have their eyes on. Control over all EU banks from one central point, with the power to shut them down, squeeze them dry, and make them beg for mercy. Athens, Greece based economics professor Yanis Varoufakis has some words on how Mario’s hands are tied:

The ECB’s Stress Tests And Our Banking Dis-Union: A Case Of Gross Institutional Failure

What gives the Fed-FDIC power over banks is the common knowledge that, when it assesses that a bank is insolvent, it has no serious qualms saying so. The reason, of course, is that it not only has powers of supervision (i.e. access to their books) but, crucially, powers of resolution and, if it so judges, the power to force mergers or to recapitalise the failing bank.

Suppose that, instead, the Fed-FDIC had, as the ECB does, only the power to scrutinise the banks’ books. Imagine now that, with only this power, the Fed-FDIC were to discover that some bank in Nevada or Missouri is in trouble. If the Fed-FDIC’s charter precluded it from doing anything else other than to announce the bank’s insolvency, its supervisory power would mean little.

For if it were common knowledge that the fiscally stressed State of Nevada or Missouri would have to borrow from money-markets to pay for the depositors’ guaranteed deposits, as well as for any new capital the banks needed to be salvaged, the rest of the state’s banks would face a run, the states would see their borrowing costs skyrocket and, soon, a combined banking and fiscal crisis could be rummaging throughout the ‘dollar zone’.

To put this crudely, the good people at the Fed would have no alternative than to keep their mouths shut, to conceal the bad news, to cover up for the bank’s problems and try to find some hush-hush way of bolstering its capitalisation.

This is precisely the sad state our so-called Banking Union has pushed the ECB’s supervisors into. As long as the ECB is not the sole authority on bank resolution, and as long as funds for dealing with insolvent banks are to come (in the final analysis) from the fiscally stressed states, the death embrace between weak states and fragile banks will continue.

If the ECB guys have too narrow a mandate for their own taste, or they don’t like their salaries or perks, they should speak out about that. Not behind closed doors, but in public. And not only in general terms, but in specifics, if it leads to situations like this where an entire year and millions of euros are spent on an audit that they know beforehand will be way less than truthful, let alone useful. These people receive generous salaries provided by European taxpayers, and the least they should do is be honest. I know, who am I kidding, right?

So what’s the solution for Europe, handing over the whole shebang to Draghi and his ilk? No, it isn’t, but they’re getting real close to achieving just that. And once the banking union is a fact, it will be that much harder – and expensive – for Greece and Italy and Cyprus and Spain and Portugal to wrestle themselves out of the straightjacket the EU has become.

It’s no coincidence that it was Greek and Italian banks who got hit hardest by the tests, flawed and fake as these were. The EU has become a power game more than anything, a ploy to induce so much fear into the financially weakest they’ll lose the belief that they can stand their own legs. And then they can be subordinated slaves forever.

As I said Sunday in Europe Redefines ‘Stress’, the stress tests were little more than a joke. They were designed that way.

In that article, I referred to Bloomberg’s Mark Whitehouse writing about a different, more or less parallel stress test, performed by the Center for Risk Management in Lausanne, inTesting Europe’s Stress Tests. My comment then:

The ECB’s Comprehensive Assessment says $203 billion was raised since 2013, leaving ‘only’ €25 billion yet to be gathered. The Swiss report says €487 billion is needed just for 37 of the 130 banks the ECB stress-tested. Of the banks the Swiss identify as having the greatest capital shortfalls, most passed the EU tests. Judging from the graph, the 7 banks in need of most capital have an aggregate shortfall of some €300 billion alone.

Among them the 3 main, and TBTF, French banks, who all passed with flying colors and got complimented for it by French central bank governor Christian Noyer today, but according to the Center for Risk Management are about €200 billion short between them. Which means France as a nation has a stressed capital shortfall of over 10% of its GDP, more than twice as much as the next patient.

Turns out, the Swiss were not the only ones doing an alternative stress test. Sachsa Steffen at the European School of Management (ESMT) in Berlin, and Viral Acharya at the Stern School of Business in New York did one as well. And the similarities between the two alternative ones, as well as the differences between both their results and the ‘official test’ are so big it’s ludicrous. Tom Braithwaite in an excellent piece for FT:

Alternative Stress Tests Find French Banks Are Weakest In Europe

On Sunday, Christian Noyer, governor of the Banque de France, was crowing about the “excellent” performance of French banks on the European stress tests Many of their Italian and Greek counterparts might have flunked but France could be proud of its banking sector. “The French banks are in the best positions in the eurozone,” said Mr Noyer. Not so fast.

Two days earlier, a different test found that the French financial sector was the weakest in Europe. The team with the temerity to deliver this bucket of cold water to Paris works at the wonderfully named Volatility Institute at New York University’s Stern school and presented its findings from a safe distance – a financial conference at the University of Michigan. The chief architect, Viral Acharya, has worked on systemic risk ever since the last crisis, attempting to design a bank safety test that can be run all the time – not at the whim of regulators.

Using his methodology, which he calls SRISK, Mr Acharya found that in a crisis French financial institutions would have a capital shortfall of almost $400bn, worse than the US and UK despite their much bigger financial sectors. Looking just at the French banks tested in the ECB stress tests, which found zero capital shortfall, SRISK came up with €189bn. Mr Acharya did not have access to the 6,000 officials who scoured balance sheets across Europe to gauge the health of the continent’s banks. But his results, which have implications for other countries, including China, should not be ignored. How big is the crisis hole?

Take Société Générale. France’s second-biggest bank by market value did fine on the ECB’s stress test. But on Mr Acharya’s measure, the bank has a large capital shortfall in a crisis. There are a couple of big reasons for the difference. First, SRISK takes into account the banks’ total balance sheet without regard for risk: unlike the ECB, it does not attempt to distinguish between €1m of German Bunds and a €1m loan to a dipsomaniac farmer with a rusty tractor. Second, it does not care what banks’ book value of equity is; it uses what the stock market says it is.

Under the ECB’s methodology, SocGen has €36.6bn of equity today and, in a crisis, would have €30.7bn of equity against €377bn of risk-weighted assets. That equates to a passable 8.1% capital ratio even in a deep recession. According to Mr Acharya’s methodology, the bank has only €30bn of market equity today against €1,322bn of assets for a much weaker capital ratio of 2.3%. In a crisis, when market values would plunge further, SocGen would be left with a shortfall of more than €60bn.

Using the stock market to compute a bank’s equity makes SRISK vulnerable to irrational optimism or irrational pessimism of investors. But Mr Acharya finds three good reasons to use it. “Markets told us that subprime MBS [mortgage-backed securities] had become poor in quality and liquidity; book values and regulatory risk weights did not ..”

Market values are also harder to manipulate by management through understatement of losses or provisions. Finally, banking crises are caused by drying up of credit by financiers. Financiers are not interested in book values or regulatory capital per se, but whether the firm can raise capital if needed to repay them. This is best captured by market value.”

It is not just France’s regulators and banks that might be well-advised to stop patting themselves on the back and consider other measures of systemic risk. Europe’s aggregate SRISK has fallen since 2011, with the deleveraging of balance sheets following the eurozone crisis. Systemic risk in the US has also fallen by half since 2008. But risk in China has picked up significantly and now surpasses the US. If anything, Mr Acharya notes, the problem is likely to be understated because of the amounts of off-balance sheet debt in China.

In the US, JPMorgan Chase’s leverage might be much better than its French counterparts, but its SRISK is bigger: a $98.4bn shortfall in a crisis. MetLife, which is considering suing the US government over its designation as a systemically important company, is found to pose a bigger systemic risk than Goldman Sachs.

If you believe that financial companies always appropriately value their assets and never try to massage the value of their equity and if you believe that officials are always diligent in examining banks’ accounting then SRISK is a waste of time. But if you believe this you haven’t been paying attention for the last decade.

I’m tempted to say someone should save the Greeks and Italians from the power game that’s being played with them, but in reality they should save themselves. That French banks come out of the ECB test with flying colors, while in two separate other tests they look absolutely abysmal, should tell us all enough about what the game is here.

There are two major countries in the eurozone, and they have all the political power there is to go around. As they are sinking, the poorer nations will be forced to make up the difference. Just like the Romans squeezed their peripheral territories so much they caused the end of their empire, and were conquered and flattened by the peoples living there.

I know I’ve said it many times already, but I’m not going to give up: the EU should be broken up, and its delusional leadership structure torn to bits, as soon as possible, or Europe is once going to be a theater of war.

The very thing the EU was supposed to prevent, it will be the source of. In exactly the same way that QE tears apart economies and societies. Presented as the sole solution to the debt crisis, but in reality the driving force behind increased inequality, ever lower wages and ever fewer benefits, and perhaps most of all the nigh complete suffocation of the younger generations, so the older – and therefore richer – can enjoy their so-called well-deserved retirement.

This whole thing is so broken and perverted it’s getting hard to understand why anybody would want to continue clinging on to it. But then, what does anybody know? 95%+ of people have been reduced to pawns in someone else’s game, and they have no idea whatsoever.

And maybe that’s genius. If you see people’s ignorance as a sufficient reason to prey upon them, that is, as many of our ‘leaders’ do. It’s what gives them power, exploiting other people’s weaknesses. And that is then seen as everyone ‘obeying’ some sort of natural law.

That’s what QE and stress tests tell me. That Greeks and Italians are no longer just being preyed upon by their own people, but by others too, with different cultures and languages and entirely different goals and ideals. And that cannot end well. You might as well put them all to work in a chaingang right this moment.

ROSENBERG: Bear Markets Don’t Just Happen – They’re Caused By These Two Conditions

ROSENBERG: Bear Markets Don't Just Happen — They're Caused By These Two Conditions

Courtesy of 

Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg isn't rattled by the recent volatility in the financial markets.

"For stocks, it always comes down to the Fed and the economy," Rosenberg said to Business Insider.

"The reality is that bear markets do not just pop out of the air," he wrote. "They are caused by tight money, recessions, or both. These conditions do not apply, nor will they until 2016 at the earliest."

We recently asked Rosenberg for what he considered to be the Most Important Chart In The World. He sent us this annotated chart of the year-over-year percent change in the S&P 500. As you can see, the big plunges indeed came during recessions and monetary tightening cycles.

Based on the trends in the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index, a recession is "at least two years away," Rosenberg said. "That is one peg — the expansion being sustained. The other is the Fed policy, and any actual rate hikes now seem to be more of a 2015 than a 2016 story."

The Federal Reserve concludes its two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Wednesday, at which point we may get some clues regarding the timing of the Fed's first rate hike. For now, all we know is it's a considerable ways off.

cotd stocks recession fed

Gluskin Sheff

SEE ALSO:  WALL STREET'S BRIGHTEST MINDS REVEAL THE MOST IMPORTANT CHARTS IN THE WORLD

 

Nomi Prins: Why The Financial & Political System Failed And Stability Matters

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Nomi Prins, author of All The Presidents' Bankers, via NomiPrins.com,

The recent spike in global political-financial volatility that was temporarily soothed by ECB covered bond buying reveals another crack in the six-year-old throw-money-at-the-banks strategies of politicians and central bankers. The premise of using banks as credit portals to transport public funds from the government to citizens is as inefficient as it is not happening. The power elite may exude belabored moans about slow growth and rising inequality in speeches and press releases, but they continue to find ways to provide liquidity, sustenance and comfort to financial institutions, not to populations.

The very fact – that without excessive artificial stimulation or the promise of it – more hell breaks loose – is one that government heads neither admit, nor appear to discuss. But the truth is that the global financial system has already failed. Big banks have been propped up, and their capital bases rejuvenated, by various means of external intervention, not their own business models.

Last week, the Federal Reserve released its latest 2015 stress test scenarios. They don’t even exceed the parameters of what actually took place during the 2008-2009-crisis period. This makes them, though statistically viable, completely irrelevant in an inevitable full-scale meltdown of greater magnitude. This Sunday, the ECB announced that 25 banks failed their tests, none of which were the biggest banks (that received the most help). These tests are the equivalent of SAT exams for which students provide the questions and answers, and a few get thrown under the bus for cheating to make it all look legit. 

Regardless of the outcome of the next set of tests, it’s the very need for them that should be examined. If we had a more controllable, stable, accountable and transparent system (let alone one not in constant litigation and crime-committing mode) neither the pretense of well-thought-out stress tests making a difference in crisis preparation, nor the administering of them, would be necessary as a soothing tool. But we don’t. We have an unreformed (legally and morally) international banking system still laden with risk and losses, whose major players control more assets than ever before, with our help.  

The biggest banks, and the US and European markets, are now floating on more than $7 trillion of Fed and ECB intervention with little to show for it on the ground and more to come. To put that into perspective – consider that the top 100 global hedge funds manage about $1.5 trillion in assets. The Fed’s book has ballooned to $4.5 trillion and the ECB’s book stands at $2.7 trillion – a figure ECB President, Mario Draghi considers too low. Thus, to sustain the illusion of international systemic health, the Fed and the ECB are each, as well as collectively, larger than the top 100 global hedge funds combined.

Providing ‘liquidity crack’ to the financial system has required heightened international government and central bank coordination to maintain an illusion of stability, but not true stability. The definition of instability is this epic support network. It is more dangerous than in past financial crises precisely because of its size and level of political backing.

During the Panic of 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary, Cortelyou announced the first US bank bailout in the country’s history. Though not a member of the government, financier J.P. Morgan was chosen by Roosevelt to deploy $25 million from the Treasury. He and a team of associates decided which banks would live or die with this federal money and some private (or customers’) capital thrown in.

The Federal Reserve was established in 1913 to back the private banking system in advance from requiring future such government injections of capital. After World War I, a Laissez Faire policy toward finance and speculation, but not alcohol, marked the 1920s. Before the financial system crumbled under the weight of its own recklessness again. So on October 24, 1929, the Big Six bankers convened at the Morgan Bank at noon (for 20 minutes) to form a plan to 'save' the ailing markets by injecting their own (well, their customer’s) capital.  It didn’t work. What transpired instead was the Great Depression.

After the Crash of 1929, markets rallied, and then lost 90% of their value. Liquidity froze. Credit for the masses was as unavailable, as was real money. The combined will of President FDR and the key bankers of the day worked to bolster people’s confidence in the system that had crushed them – by reforming it, by making the biggest banks smaller, by separating bet-taking arms from those in which people could store, and borrow money from, safely. Political and financial leaderships collaboratively ushered in the reform measures of the Glass-Steagall Act.  As I note in my most recent book, All the Presidents' Bankers, this Act was not merely a piece of legislation passed in spirited bi-partisan fashion, but it was also a means to stabilize a system for participants at the top, middle and bottom of it. Stability itself was the political and financial goal.

Through World War II, the Cold War, and Vietnam, and until the dissolution of the gold standard, the financial system remained fairly stable, with banks handling their own risks, which were separate from the funds of citizens. No capital injections or bailouts were required until the mid-1970s Penn Central debacle. But with the bailout floodgates reopened, big banks launched a frenzied drive for Middle East petro-dollar profits to use as capital for a hot new area of speculation, Third World loans.

By the 1980s, the Latin American Debt crisis resulted, and with it, the magnitude of federally backed bank bailouts based on Washington alliances, ballooned. When the 1994 Mexican Peso Crisis hit, bank losses were ‘handled’ by President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary (and former Goldman Sachs co-CEO) Robert Rubin and his Asst. Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers via congressionally approved aid.

Afterwards, the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, the mega-merging of financial players, the explosion of the derivatives market, and the rise of global ‘competition’ amongst government supported gambling firms, lead to increased speculative complexity and instability, and the recent and ongoing 2008 financial crisis.  

By its actions, the US government (under both political parties) has chosen to embrace volatility rather than stability from a policy perspective, and has convinced governments in Europe to follow suit. Too big to fail has been replaced by bigger than ever.

Today, the Big Six US banks are mostly incarnations of the Big Six banks in 1929 with a few add-ons due to political relationships (notably that of Goldman Sachs, whose past partner, Sidney Weinberg struck up lasting relationships with FDR and other presidents.) 

We no longer have a private financial system responsible for its own risk, regardless of how it’s computed or supervised. We have a system whose risk is shouldered by the federal government and its central bank entities, and therefore, the people whose deposits seed that risk and whose taxes and futures sustain it.

We have a private financial system that routinely commits financial crimes against humanity with miniscule punishments, as approved by the government. We don’t even have a free market system based on the impossible notion of full transparency and opportunity, we have a publicly funded betting arena, where the largest players are the most politically connected and the most powerful politicians are enablers, contributors and supporters. We talk about wealth inequality but not this substantial power inequality that generates it. 

Today, neither the leadership in Washington, nor throughout Europe, has the foresight to consider what kind of real stress would happen when zero and negative interest rate and bond-buying policies truly run their course and wreak further havoc on their respective economies, because the very banks supported by them, will crush people, now in a weaker economic condition, more horrifically than before.

The political system that stumbles to sustain the illusion that economies can be built on rampant financial instability, has also failed us.

Nomi Prins: Why The Financial & Political System Failed And Stability Matters

Picture from Pixabay.

 

Durable Goods Decline Second Month; Key Take-Aways

Courtesy of Mish.

Inquiring minds are digging into the Census Bureau Advance Report on Durable Goods Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories and Orders for September 2014 for hints at 4th quarter GDP.

The headline data shows new orders for manufactured durable goods in September decreased $3.2 billion or 1.3 percent. This follows an 18.3 percent decline in August.

However, transportation (especially commercial and military plane orders) are so large and volatile, the overall results are nearly useless.

For  example: In June, new orders were up 22.5% with transportation orders up 73.3%. Nondefense aircraft and parts orders were up a whopping 315.6%. Last month, nondefense aircraft and parts was down 74% and this month another 16%.

Key Components

Instead of focusing on the headline numbers, let's dive into the report to isolate key components.

The report itemizes all the categories, but it's not easy to scroll through. This table I put together should help.

Key Take-Aways

Line items (except the last line which shows shipments) are new orders, in millions of dollars, seasonally adjusted.

The last two lines are the ones to watch.

Core Capital Goods are non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft. It's a measure of business investment and business sentiment. The 1.7% decline in orders is the largest since January. …

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Forget “Free Trade” – Focus On Capital Flows

Courtesy of Charles Hugh-Smith of Of Two Minds

In a world dominated by mobile capital, mobile capital is the comparative advantage.

Defenders and critics of "free trade" and globalization tend to present the issue as either/or: it's inherently good or bad. In the real world, it's not that simple. The confusion starts with defining free trade (and by extension, globalization).

In the classical definition of free trade espoused by 18th century British economist David Ricardo, trade is generally thought of as goods being shipped from one nation to another to take advantage of what Ricardo termed comparative advantage: nations would benefit by exporting whatever they produced efficiently and importing what they did not produce efficiently.

While Ricardo’s concept of free trade is intuitively appealing because it is win-win for importer and exporter, it doesn’t describe the consequences of the mobility of capital. Capital–cash, credit, tools and the intangible capital of expertise–moves freely around the globe seeking the highest possible return, pursuing the prime directive of capital: expand or die.
 
Capital that fails to expand will stagnate or shrink. If the contraction continues unchecked, the capital eventually vanishes.
 
The mobility of capital radically alters the simplistic 18th century view of free trade. In today's world, trade can not be coherently measured as goods moving between nations, because capital from the importing nation owns the productive assets in the exporting nation. If Apple owns a factory (or joint venture) in China and collects virtually all the profits from the iGadgets produced there, this reality cannot be captured by the models of simple trade described by Ricardo.
 
In today's globalized version of "free trade," mobile capital can arbitrage labor, currencies, interest rates, regulatory burdens and political favors by shifting between nations and assets. Trying to account for trade in the 18th century manner of goods shipped between nations is nonsensical when components come from a number of nations and profits flow not to the nation of origin but to the owners of capital.
 
This was recently described in a Foreign Affairs article, (Mis)leading Indicators:
If trade numbers more accurately accounted for how products are made, it is possible that the United States would not have any trade deficit at all with China. The problem, in short, is that trade figures are currently calculated based on the assumption that each product has a single country of origin and that the declared value of that product goes to that country.Thus, every time an iPhone or an iPad rolls off the factory floors of Foxconn (Apple's main contractor in China) and travels to the port of Long Beach, California, it is counted as an import from China, since that is where it undergoes its final "substantial transformation," which is the criterion the WTO uses to determine which goods to assign to which countries. 
 
Every iPhone that Apple sells in the United States adds roughly $200 to the U.S.-Chinese trade deficit, according to the calculations of three economists who looked at the issue in 2010. That means that by 2013, Apple's U.S. iPhone sales alone were adding $6-$8 billion to the trade deficit with China every year, if not more. 

A more reasonable standard, of course, would recognize that iPhones and iPads do not have a single country of origin. More than a dozen companies from at least five countries supply parts for them. Infineon Technologies, in Germany, makes the wireless chip; Toshiba, in Japan, manufactures the touchscreen; and Broadcom, in the United States, makes the Bluetooth chips that let the devices connect to wireless headsets or keyboards. 

Analysts differ over how much of the final price of an iPhone or an iPad should be assigned to what country, but no one disputes that the largest slice should go not to China but to the United States. That intellectual property, along with the marketing, is the largest source of the iPhone's value. 

Taking these facts into account would leave China, the supposed country of origin, with a paltry piece of the pie. Analysts estimate that as little as $10 of the value of every iPhone or iPad actually ends up in the Chinese economy, in the form of income paid directly to Foxconn or other contractors.

 

 

In a world dominated by mobile capital, mobile capital is the comparative advantage. Mobile capital can borrow billions of dollars (or equivalent) in one nation at low rates of interest and then use that money to outbid domestic capital for assets in another nation with few sources of credit.
 
Mobile capital can overwhelm the local political system, buying favors and cutting deals, all with cash borrowed at near-zero interest rates. Mobile capital can buy up and exploit resources and cheap labor until the resource is depleted or competition cuts profit margins. At that point, mobile capital closes the factories, fires the employees and moves on.
 
Where is the "free trade" in a world in which the comparative advantage is always held by mobile capital? And what gives mobile capital its essentially unlimited leverage? Central banks issuing trillions of dollars in nearly-free money to banks and other financial institutions that funnel the free cash to corporations and financiers, who can then roam the world snapping up assets and arbitraging global imbalances with nearly-free money.

There's nothing remotely "free" about trade based not on Ricardo's simple concept of comparative advantage but on capital flows unleashed by central bank liquidity.

Picture via Geralt at Pixabay.

El-Erian: “Europe Is One or Two Rounds of Sanctions From Recession”; El-Erian Far Too Optimistic

Courtesy of Mish.

In a speech on BRICs at the Peterson International Institute of Economics former PIMCO co-head El-Erian made the claim Europe Is One or Two Rounds of Sanctions From Recession.

The West, and Europe in particular, is one or two rounds of sanctions and counter-sanctions away from entering into a new recession, chairman of President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council Mohamed El-Erian stated Monday.

“We are one or two rounds of sanctions and counter-sanctions away from the European politics over the Ukraine tipping Europe into a recession,” El-Erian said in a speech on the BRICS economies at the Peterson International Institute of Economics.

He noted that the impact of level three sectoral sanctions against Russia is “taking the West into a recession through sanctions to the energy sector.”

Arguing against the notion that Western economies are managing to keep pace after the crisis and despite the sanctions against Russia, El-Erian stated, “It may be chugging along in the United States, but Europe is looking at flat growth.”

According to Obama’s global development adviser, Ukraine continues to be a problem. El-Erian concluded, “The current state of play in Ukraine is lose, lose, lose” for Ukraine, Russia, and the West.

El-Erian Far Too Optimistic

It is not going to take another round or two of sanctions to tip Europe into recession.

France, Italy, and Spain are already there by any realistic set of measures, and Germany is in serious decline.

Unless one uses the strict definition of two consecutive quarters of declining growth, Europe is arguably in recession right now. Greece, Spain, and Italy are actually in economic depressions.

El-Erian is far behind the curve, especially if he thought he was making a dramatic statement.

But yes, sanctions are inane and they will make matters worse. And no, the US will not decouple from the global economy.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

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Wall Street Journal: Wealth Inequality Is Your Own Dumb Fault

Courtesy of Pam Martens.

Wall Street Bull Statue in Lower ManhattanYesterday the Wall Street Journal gave prominence to the following headline on page one of its newspaper with the story jumping to page A2: “Bad Market Timing Fueled Wealth Gap.” Through the use of the word “fueled” in that headline, the reader is conditioned to believe that market timing is a significant cause of wealth inequality in the United States – a completely bogus idea for which there exists mountains of research to the contrary.

The online version of the article includes a video interview with the author, Josh Zumbrun, and this caption appears under the video: “Millions of Americans bought high and sold low, which caused them to unknowingly widen economic inequality. WSJ’s Josh Zumbrun explains on MoneyBeat with Paul Vigna.”

The crux of this thesis is built in the first three paragraphs of the article as follows:

“Millions of Americans inadvertently made a classic investment mistake that contributed to today’s widening economic inequality: They bought high and sold low.

“Late in the stock-market booms of the 1990s and 2000s, more U.S. families clambered into stocks as indexes surged. Then, once markets tumbled, many households sold and took losses.

“Those that held on during the most recent collapses reaped the benefits as stocks nearly tripled between 2009 and today.”

Only much later in the article does the author offer up this bit of clarification:

“Wealth inequality in the U.S. has many causes, some of which precede the recent booms and busts, and the new research doesn’t quantify exactly how much the stock-market timing contributed to it.”

“Doesn’t quantify exactly how much”? But your front page headline said market timing “fueled” the wealth gap. The Wall Street Journal couldn’t possibly be engaging in propaganda could it?

The absurdity that buying high and selling low fueled wealth inequality in the United States is firmly established in the data from decades of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) indicating that the vast majority of American households don’t even own stocks. According to the 2007 SCF, the year before the 2008 financial crash, only 17.9 percent of American households owned stocks.

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Most Expensive Housing Markets in US are Liberal: Correlation or Cause?

Courtesy of Mish.

Here’s an interesting article thanks to Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Trulia Trends via Washington Post Wonkblog: The most expensive housing markets in the U.S. are also the most liberal.

The relationship between housing affordability and politics in the US is startlingly strong as these charts by Jed Kolko shows.

Median asking price in dollars per square foot is on the vertical axis. Margin for Obama over Romney in the 2012 election is on the horizontal axis.

With the exception of Orange County California, all of the high priced counties voted for Obama.

The Washington Post notes ….

Nine of the 10 bluest markets had median home asking prices above $130 per square foot. All of the 10 reddest markets had prices below that. In the dark blue markets, housing cost almost twice as much ($227 per square foot) as in the red ones ($119). In metro Washington — this is not just the District — the average home asking price was about $177.

Trulia notes …

Households in blue markets tend to have higher incomes. But those higher incomes are not enough to offset higher home prices. Our middle-class affordability measure, which reflects the share of homes for sale within reach of a median-income household, is significantly lower in bluer markets. Furthermore, blue markets have lower homeownership and greater income inequality than red markets.

Sorted Data

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Chris Hedges: The Myth of a Free Press

Chris Hedges: The Myth of a Free Press

Courtesy of Jesse's Cafe Americain

The bias in the US media towards corporate and special interests is apparent in some sources more easily and readily than in others, especially if one has access and bothers to look at a broad base of international news sources.  

The great change was institutionalized with the overturn of the Fairness Doctrine under Reagan in 1985 and the revoking of media ownership restrictions from 1934 and 1975 under the Clinton administration's Telecommunications Act of 1996.

What has changed perhaps is the extreme marginalization of independent sources.  For the most part media outlets declare themselves for one group or another.  The bias of the financial media in policy issues has become so obvious and servile to its corporate interests that it is almost embarrassing.  What is even more surprising is the reach of this sort of continuous advocacy journalism into 'mainstream' channels such as Fox and MSNBC that actively re-interpret reality to suit a class of viewers.  

This balkanization of the issues attracts large classes of listeners into group think, and precludes any meaningful debate of the issues, even to the very framing of the questions and the issues, and ultimately their very perception of reality.

This is a brief excerpt.  Read the entire article for free here.

"The mass media blindly support the ideology of corporate capitalism. They laud and promote the myth of American democracy—even as we are stripped of civil liberties and money replaces the vote. They pay deference to the leaders on Wall Street and in Washington, no matter how perfidious their crimes. They slavishly venerate the military and law enforcement in the name of patriotism. 

They select the specialists and experts, almost always drawn from the centers of power, to interpret reality and explain policy. They usually rely on press releases, written by corporations, for their news. And they fill most of their news holes with celebrity gossip, lifestyle stories, sports and trivia. The role of the mass media is to entertain or to parrot official propaganda to the masses. 

The corporations, which own the press, hire journalists willing to be courtiers to the elites, and they promote them as celebrities. These journalistic courtiers, who can earn millions of dollars, are invited into the inner circles of power. They are, as John Ralston Saul writes, hedonists of power…

The mass media are plagued by the same mediocrity, corporatism and careerism as the academy, labor unions, the arts, the Democratic Party and religious institutions. They cling to the self-serving mantra of impartiality and objectivity to justify their subservience to power. 

The press writes and speaks—unlike academics that chatter among themselves in arcane jargon like medieval theologians—to be heard and understood by the public. And for this reason the press is more powerful and more closely controlled by the state. 

It plays an essential role in the dissemination of official propaganda. But to effectively disseminate state propaganda the press must maintain the fiction of independence and integrity. It must hide its true intentions."

Chris Hedges, The Myth of a Free Press

Picture via Pixabay here.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Courtesy of Wade of Investing Caffeine

Christmas Present Wrapped in Gold and Silver

There have been numerous factors contributing to this bull market, even in the face of a slew of daunting and exhausting headlines. Contributing to the advance has been a steady stream of rising earnings; a flood of price buoying stock buybacks; and the all-important gift of growing dividends that keep on giving. Bonds have benefited to a lesser extent than stocks over the last five years in part because bonds lack the gift of rising dividend payouts. Life would be grander for bondholders, if the issuers had the heart to share generous news like this:

“Good day Mr. & Mrs. Jones. As your bond issuer, we value our mutually beneficial relationship so much that we would like to reward you as a bond investor. In addition to the 2.5% we are paying you now, we have decided to increase your annual payments by 6% per year for the next 20 years. In other words, we will increase your $2,500 in annual interest payments to over $8,000 per year. But wait…there’s more! You are such great people, we are going to increase the value of your initial $100,000 investment to $450,000.”

Does this sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not…sort of. However, the scenario is absolutely true, if you invested $100,000 in S&P 500 stocks during 1993 and held that investment until today. Unfortunately, the gift giving conversation above would be unattainable and the furthest from the truth, if you invested $100,000 into bonds. Today, if you decided to invest $100,000 in 20-year government bonds paying 2.5%, your $2,500 in annual payments will never increase over the next two decades. What’s more, by 2034 your initial principal of $100,000 won’t increase by a penny, while inflation slowly but surely crushes your investment’s purchasing power.

To illustrate the magical power of dividend compounding at a 6% CAGR, here is a chart of the S&P 500 dividend stream over the 21-year period of 1993 – 2014:

SP500 Dividends 1993-2014

The trend of increasing dividends doesn’t appear to be slowing either. Here is a table showing the number of S&P 500 companies increasing their dividend payouts:

COUNT OF DIVIDEND ACTIONS YEAR-TO-DATE INCREASING THEIR DIVIDEND
2014 YTD 292
2013 366
2012 333
2011 320
2010 243
2009 151

Source: Standard and Poor’s

As I mentioned before, while dividends have more than tripled over the last twenty years, stock prices have gone up even more – appreciating about 4.5x’s (see chart below):

SP500 1993-2014 Chart

With aging demographics increasing retirement income needs, it comes as no surprise to me that the percentage of S&P 500 companies paying dividends has increased from 71% (351 companies) in 2001 to 84% (423 companies) at the end of Q3 – 2014. Interestingly, all 30 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average currently pay a dividend. If you broaden out the perspective to all S&P Dow Jones Indices, you will discover the strength of dividends is particularly evident over the last 12 months. During this period, dividends increased by a whopping +27%, or $55 billion.

This trend in increasing dividends can also be seen through the lens of the dividend payout ratio. It is true that over longer timeframes the dividend payout ratio has been coming down (see Dividend Floodgates Widen) because of share buyback tax efficiency. Nevertheless, more recently the dividend payout ratio has drifted upwards to a range of about 32% of profits since 2011 (see chart below):

Source: FactSet

 

Source: FactSet

There’s no disputing the benefit of rising stock dividends. Baby Boomers, retirees, and other long-term investors are increasingly reaping the rewards of these dividend gifts that keep on giving.

Other Investing Caffeine articles on dividends:

Dividends: From Sapling to Abundant Fruit Tree

Dividend Floodgates Widen

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in  certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including SPY, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

Is This The Reason Twitter Is Tumbling After Hours?

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

While overall Twitter's just released Q3 numbers were more or less in line as expected, with Q3 EPS printing at just a penny, the same as expected on $361 million in revenues, $10 million higher than the $351 million consensus estimate, and even EBITDA of $68 million beating estimates of $52.8 million, the stock has tumbled by some 12% since reporting after hours.

And while the headline data appear normal, it is one of the gimmicky, non-GAAP "twitter-specific" indicators that the company came up with just to validate its growth story that appears to be the cause of the drop after hours, namely TWTR's Timeline Views/MAU, which declined across the board, and were down in both the US and Worldwide not only Y/Y (by -6% and -7%, respectively), but also down compared to the second quarter.

 

Is this the end of the great non-GAAP growth story? Judging by the market cap, which just lost about $3 billion in value, the answer may be yes.

 

 

Mark Mahaney seems to think its all ok from here…

 

Tapering, Exiting, or Just Punting?

Tapering, Exiting, or Just Punting?

Courtesy of James Kunstler

Oh, that sound you hear this morning is the distant roar of European equity markets puking after the latest round of phony bank “stress tests” — another exercise in pretend by financial authorities who understand, at least, the bottomless credulity of the news media and the complete mystification of the general public in monetary matters. I rather expect that roar to grow Niagara-like as US markets catch the urge to upchuck violently. Problem is, unlike Ebola victims, they can’t be quarantined.

The end of the “taper” is upon us like the night of the hunter, conveniently just a week before the US election. If the Federal Reserve is politicized, the indoctrination must have been conducted by the Three Stooges. America’s central bank never did explain the difference between tapering and exiting their purchases of US treasury paper. I guess that’s because it has other interventionary tricks up its sleeves. Three-card Monte with reverse repos… ventures into direct stock purchases… the setting up of new Maiden Lane type companies for scarfing up securities with that piquant dead carp aroma. Who knows what’s next? It’s amazing what you can do with money in a desperate polity with a few dozen lawyers.

Of course, there is the solemn matter as to what happens now to the regularly issued treasury bonds and bills. Do they just sit in an accordian file on Jack Lew’s desk next to his Barack Obama bobblehead. The Russians don’t want them. The Chinese are already stuck with trillions they would like to unload for more gold. Frightened European one-percenters may want to park some cash in American paper to avoid bail-ins and other confiscations already rehearsed over there — but could that amount to more than a paltry few billion a month at the most?

What do the stock markets do without up to $85 billion a month (peak QE) sloshing around looking for dark pools to settle in? Can US companies keep the markets levitated by buying back their own shares like snakes eating their tails? Isn’t that basically over and done? And exactly how do interest rates stay suppressed when only a few French tax refugees want to buy American debt? I don’t think anybody knows the answer to these questions and the scenarios are too abstruse for the people who get paid for supposedly writing learned commentary in the sclerotic remnants of the press.

A few things are for sure, though they are sedulously kept out of the public discussion by interested gate-keepers. One is that the western economies have lost the ability to generate real new wealth of the type that their debt-based monetary systems require for ongoing operations (such as paying interest on old debt). Instead, we’ve entered a liminal era when fake wealth passes for wealth. Jive capital poses as capital. The main reason for this, of course, is the inability of world energy producers to meaningfully increase energy production in a way that does not suck more capital out of the system than the system can regenerate. But that conversation also has been outlawed from the public arena in “Saudi America.”

I suspect the subject will force itself on the national consciousness in the year ahead as one company after another in the shale oil regions craps out on a shortage of available investment capital. That’s the inflection point where fake wealth is unmasked for what it really is: crippled capital formation. The disappointment from that looming event will thunder through our society.

In the meantime, the distractions are many and powerful. Ebola may appear controlled for the moment in the USA, but the host countries in West Africa are virtually falling apart and the demographic movement out of failed economies like Liberia’s would suggest an awful dynamic for the spread of that disease into new regions. ISIS (or whatever we call them) is putting on a diversionary show on the Turkish border, but the real action awaits in Baghdad, perhaps poignantly at Christmas time, when mortar rounds start falling on the US embassy in the Green Zone and the evacuations commence.

 

This Little Piggy Bent The Market

Things That Make You Go Hmmm: This Little Piggy Bent The Market

By Grant Williams

About 18 months ago, I had a very pleasant chat with a gentleman by the name of Luzi Stamm.

You may detect some measure of surprise in my words, and the reason for that is quite simple: Luzi Stamm is a politician; and, as regular readers will know, I am no fan of that particular class.

But Herr Stamm was different.

An MP representing the Swiss People’s Party, Stamm was spearheading a federal popular initiative which needed 100,000 signatures in order to comply with the Swiss parliamentary system’s rigid framework regarding referendums. (OK all you “referenda” people out there, I know, OK? But I’m going with “referendums,” so pipe down).

That initiative was one of three being pursued: firstly, a motion to limit immigration into Switzerland to 0.2% per year; secondly, a drive to abolish the flat tax system and for resident, nonworking foreigners to be taxed based instead on their income and their assets; and thirdly, Stamm’s initiative… Well, we’ll get to that shortly; but before we do, we need to understand a little about how Swiss democracy works.

(Wikipedia): Switzerland’s voting system is unique among modern democratic nations in that Switzerland practices direct democracy (also called semi-direct democracy), in which any citizen may challenge any law approved by the parliament or, at any time, propose a modification of the federal Constitution. In addition, in most cantons all votes are cast using paper ballots that are manually counted. At the federal level, voting can be organised for:

Elections (election of the Federal Assembly)

Mandatory referendums (votation on a modification of the constitution made by the Federal Assembly)

Optional referendums (referendum on a law accepted by the Federal Assembly and that collected 50,000 signatures of opponents)

Federal popular initiatives (votation on a modification of the constitution made by citizens and that collected 100,000 signatures of supporters)

Approximately four times a year, voting occurs over various issues; these include both referendums, where policies are directly voted on by people, and elections, where the populace votes for officials. Federal, cantonal and municipal issues are polled simultaneously, and the majority of people cast their votes by mail. Between January 1995 and June 2005, Swiss citizens voted 31 times, to answer 103 questions (during the same period, French citizens participated in only two referendums)

In Swiss law, any popular initiative which achieves the milestone of 100,000 signatures MUST be put to the citizens of the country as a referendum, and in a country of just 8,061,516 people (according to the July 2014 count — never let it be said that the Swiss aren’t precise), that’s a pretty big ask; but the Swiss do love their votes — so much so that, since 1798, there has been a seemingly never-ending procession of issues which the Swiss people have been entrusted by their leaders to decide: 

In 2014 alone there have already been three referendums concerning such diverse issues as the minimum wage, abortion, and the financing and development of railway infrastructure. (For those of you just dying to know the outcomes, the abortion referendum, which would have dropped abortion coverage from public health insurance, failed by a large margin, with about 70% of participating voters rejecting the proposal. The railway financing was approved by 62% of the voters, and the motion that would have given Switzerland the highest minimum wage in the world — 22 francs ($23.29) an hour — was soundly defeated, with 76% of the voters saying “nein.”)

One wonders what the outcome would be of a similar motion to hike the minimum wage to such lofty heights in the US. Or in Great Britain.

The bottom line? The Swiss just think (and, importantly, vote) differently.

But back to Luzi Stamm and the SPP initiative.

Immigration and taxes aren’t uppermost in Stamm’s mind. What he IS concerned about is gold.

When we spoke on the telephone last year, Stamm explained to me that he hadn’t really properly understood the part gold played in the Swiss monetary equation until he’d had it explained to him by a friend more versed in finance (Stamm is a lawyer by background but with an economics degree from the University of Zurich); but once he understood how it all worked, Stamm realized that the changes to Swiss monetary prudence which had occurred in just a few short years were (a) potentially disastrous for the country and (b) not remotely understood by his countrymen (and women).

So Stamm decided he ought to do something about it.

The Swiss had accumulated a significant gold reserve the old-fashioned way — through seemingly constant current account surpluses — over many decades, but in May 1992 they finally joined the IMF.

Once THAT little genie was unleashed, things began to change.

In November of 1996, the Swiss Federal Council issued a draft for a new Federal Constitution, and contained within that draft was an amended position on monetary policy (article 89, in case you’re wondering) which severed the Swiss franc’s link to gold and reaffirmed the SNB’s constitutional independence:

Money and currency are a federal matter. The Confederation shall have the exclusive right to coin money and issue banknotes.

As an independent central bank, the Swiss National Bank shall follow a monetary policy which serves the general interest of the country; it shall be administered with the cooperation and under the supervision of the Confederation.

The Swiss National Bank shall create sufficient monetary reserves from its profits.

At least two-thirds of the net profits of the Swiss National Bank shall be credited to the Cantons.

Spiffy.

In April 1999, the revision of the Federal Constitution was approved (how else than through a referendum?), and it came into effect on January 1, 2000.

Oh… sorry… I almost forgot to mention that in September 1999 — after the revision had been adopted but before it had been officially enacted — the SNB became one of the signatories to the Washington Agreement on Gold Sales, meaning that all that lovely Swiss gold which had been sitting there, steadily accumulating and making the Swiss franc one of the last remaining “hard” currencies on the planet, was eligible to be sold.

A single line in the Swiss National Bank’s own history of monetary policy identifies the beginning of the demise of one of the world’s great currencies:

On 2 May, the SNB begins selling gold holdings no longer required for monetary policy purposes.

And there you have it. “No longer required for monetary policy purposes.”

That’s what happens when you finally embrace the beauty of fiat. Not only do you get to sell gold, you get to call the proceeds of those sales “profits.”

The absurdity borders on breathtaking.

At the beginning of 2000, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) held roughly 2,600 tonnes of gold in its reserves. That equated to approximately 8% of total global central bank gold reserves. After the revised constitution became law, the Washington Agreement took over and… Bingo!:

Swiss gold reserves were plundered gently sold in line with the Washington Agreement, and the “profits” (the language used by the SNB themselves) were distributed amongst the Swiss cantons; so everybody in a position to raise questions ended up getting a nice, fat slug of “profit” to keep them quiet help their Canton pay the bills.

Now, does anyone notice anything particular about the period when the Swiss gold sales were at their highest? Yessss… that’s right (as with the UK’s sales), the bulk of Swiss sales were made at the lows in the gold price (between $300 and $500 per ounce — blue shaded area).

To look at it another way, the Swiss National Bank went from being one of the soundest central banking institutions on Earth to just another in the morass of apologist financial institutions that lost sight of their mandates while grasping for a Keynesian free lunch, egged on by a new breed of politicians who knew nothing of the principles of sound money or, if they did, were happy to put them to the back of their minds as they extended their hands.

Sadly, as went the soundness of the SNB, so went the soundness of the Swiss franc itself.

As you can see from the chart above, the SNB has, over the last two decades, oustripped its nearest rival in gold sales by a factor of three.

Adding to the fun and games was the decision in September 2011, at the height of the euro crisis, to peg the Swiss franc to the euro (something that obviously couldn’t have been done prior to breaking the gold peg) in order to stop it appreciating.

How? Why through literally unlimited printing of Swiss francs to stop the exchange rate breaking 1.20.

At the time, the SNB was unequivocal:

The current massive overvaluation of the Swiss franc poses an acute threat to the Swiss economy and carries the risk of a deflationary development. The Swiss National Bank is therefore aiming for a substantial and sustained weakening of the Swiss franc.

All this talk of “massive overvaluation of the Swiss franc” is utter bollocks a little disingenuous. (“Surely not!” I hear you cry.)

Between 1970 and 2008, the strength of the Swiss franc was legendary. During that time, it appreciated by 330% against the US dollar and by 57% versus the Deutsche mark/euro. Consequently, a strong currency went hand-in-hand with a strong economy. How awful.

The problem was NOT in the OVERvaluation of the Swiss franc, as the SNB would have you believe, but rather in the UNDERvaluation of the competition; and the only thing the SNB could do was to join in the great devaluation race.

That move weakened the currency by about 9% in 15 minutes, and the immediate effect on the SNB’s balance sheet was obvious:

(Mitsui Global Precious Metals): As late as the end of 2009, the SNB held 38.1 billion CHF in gold out of total reserves of 207.3 billion CHF, with gold representing a touch over 18 per cent of all its reserves. At the end of July 2014, it owned 39.1 billion Swiss Francs in gold (or 1,040 tonnes) from total reserves of 517.3 billion CHF, meaning that roughly 7.6 per cent of its assets were in the form of the yellow metal.

Note that the rise in value of Swiss gold by CHF 1 billion wasn’t enough to counter the destructive nature of overt and unchecked money printing.

Like the Fed, the BoJ, and the BoE before them, the SNB became, at a stroke, another previously sound institution that unhesitatingly ripped its balance sheet to shreds:

Since 2009, the SNB has quintupled its balance sheet, making it (on a relative basis) the most prolific of the central bank printing machines. Not bad for the world’s 96th-largest nation.

Since the EUR peg was instituted just three years ago, the SNB’s balance sheet has more than doubled.

So, with the Swiss franc’s soundness under attack from within its own borders, Luzi Stamm decided to try to use the Swiss love for referendums and the rigidity of the Swiss political process to try to reinstate the Swiss franc as a sound currency.

To that end, Stamm proposed the Swiss Gold Initiative (“Save Our Swiss Gold”).

Funnily enough, the proposal was rejected by lawmakers, but Stamm gathered three like-minded MPs and, more importantly, enough signatures on his petition (100,000) to ensure that a referendum on the proposal would take place; and that vote will happen on November 30th — six weeks from now.

Stamm pulled off a masterstroke in securing the involvement in the Swiss Gold Initiative of Egon von Greyerz who, along with being one of the most highly respected figures in the gold industry, happens to be one of the world’s nicest human beings.

We’ll get to Egon’s involvement shortly, but first let’s take a look at the motions that make up the Swiss Gold Initiative, which are threefold:

1. The gold of the Swiss National Bank must be stored physically in Switzerland.
2. The Swiss National Bank does not have the right to sell its gold reserves.
3. The Swiss National Bank must hold at least 20% of its total assets in gold.

(NB. Before we get to the part of this story where the SNB tell us how big a nightmare it would be to force them to hold 20% of their reserves in gold, I’d point you back to the chart on page 8. Remember? The one that showed the Swiss held 18% of their reserves in gold just five short years ago?)

Click here to continue reading this article from Things That Make You Go Hmmm… – a free newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore.

HUSSMAN: I Think The Stock Market Is Crashing

HUSSMAN: I Think The Stock Market Is Crashing

Courtesy of  of Business Insider

Fund manager John Hussman of the Hussman Funds has been one of the most vocal bears on Wall Street for the past few years.

The market has continued to rise strongly in the face of these warnings, which has clobbered Hussman's reputation and performance. But those who are loud and early/wrong on Wall Street are always ridiculed … unless/until the trend changes. At that point, they become one of the heralded few who were "right."

For the past six months or so, Hussman has been increasing the volume of his warnings about a potential market crash.

In this week's note, Hussman shares his view that the market's sharp rally over the past seven trading days is not likely the resumption of a rocketship bull market that began in 2009, but a standard bear-market rally.

Specifically, Hussman believes that the market rolled over a month ago and is now in the process of crashing.

Hussman correctly observes what many investors forget, which is that market crashes don't happen in straight lines down. Rather, they generally consist of sharp plunges followed by sharp rallies followed by deeper plunges followed by rallies …  

Only after many of these roller-coaster moves, Hussman observes, does the market ultimately hit bottom.

In support of this position, Hussman offers charts of five previous market crashes and then one of the market today.

Note the saw-tooth patterns:

1929:

1929 crash

John Hussman, Hussman Funds

1973:

 1973 crash

John Hussman, Hussman Funds

1987:

1987 crash

John Hussman, Hussman Funds

2000:

2000 crash

John Hussman, Hussman Funds

2007:

 2007 crash

John Hussman, Hussman Funds

2014:

2014 market

John Hussman, Hussman Funds

Start of a crash?

Unlike many other market forecasters, Hussman is always careful to say that he doesn't know what the market is going to do. But his analysis, which is far more rigorous than that of many who express more certain views, leads him to conclude the following:

As I noted last week, “Keep in mind that even terribly hostile market environments do not resolve into uninterrupted declines. Even the 1929 and 1987 crashes began with initial losses of 10-12% that were then punctuated by hard advances that recovered about half of those losses before failing again. The period surrounding the 2000 bubble peak included a series of 10% declines and recoveries. The 2007 top began with a plunge as market internals deteriorated materially (see Market Internals Go Negative) followed by a recovery to a marginal new high in October that failed to restore those internals. One also tends to see increasing day-to-day volatility, and a tendency for large moves to occur in sequence.”

My impression is that we are observing a similar dynamic at present. Though we remain open to the potential for market internals to improve convincingly enough to at least defer our immediate concerns about market risk, we should also be mindful of the sequence common to the 1929, 1972, 1987, 2000 and 2007 episodes: 1) an extreme syndrome of overvalued, overbought, overbullish conditions (rich valuations, lopsided bullish sentiment, uncorrected and overextended short-term action); 2) a subtle breakdown in market internals across a broad range of stocks, industries, and security types; 3) an initial “air-pocket” type selloff to an oversold short-term low; 4) a “fast, furious, prone-to-failure” short squeeze to clear the oversold condition; 5) a continued pairing of rich valuations and dispersion in market internals, resulting in a continuation to a crash or a prolonged bear market decline.

You can read Hussman's full note here >

SEE ALSO: People Don't Like The Word "Crash," So I Won't Use It, But …

 

The Saudis have the staying power to undercut the competition

The Saudis have the staying power to undercut the competition

Courtesy of Sober Look

According to Deutsche Bank, the Saudi government can sustain itself for almost 8 years with Brent crude at $83/bbl. The nation's government has accumulated sufficient "rainy day funds" to withstand a prolonged period of budget deficits driven by low oil prices.

 

Source: DB

Armed with such staying power, Saudi Arabia is undercutting the competition in order to expand market share. They know they have the funds to outlast most of the competitors. The goal is to pressure OPEC cheaters as well as to shake out US "tight oil" producers. The Saudis could presumably deal with the notion of US "energy independence", but having Americans export large amounts of crude (currently being debated in the US) and compete head on with OPEC is not acceptable. While Saudi Arabia cannot entirely stop the growth of North American production, it is going to try slowing it.

The Saudis launched their attack with the comment that the nation "will accept oil prices below $90 per barrel, and perhaps down to $80, for as long as a year or two". With energy markets already soft, the selloff acceleration ensued.

Another recent development shows that the Saudis are also willing to back their statement with action. With OPEC already producing 700-900K bbl/d above its quota, Saudi Aramco started undercutting the competition by lowering prices.

Deutsche Bank: – … we can observe that the differential of Saudi Arabia’s Arab Light blend versus the Oman/Dubai average for Asian deliveries has fallen sharply from a premium of USD1.65/bbl for September loadings to a discount of USD1.05/bbl for November loadings. This suggests that Saudi Aramco is determined to maintain current levels of exports at the expense of sales prices achieved. This represents the sharpest discount since the -USD1.25/bbl level observed in December 2008, during a quarter in which global oil demand contracted by 3.0 mmb/d, in contrast to the current quarter when we still expect oil demand to grow by 0.8 mmb/d.

Source: DB


The November OPEC meeting is expected to be tense, with a number of nations pushing for production cuts. But ultimately the Saudis will prevail and the pressure on high-cost crude producers will continue. Pain will be felt in Iran, Russia, Venezuela, as well as across the North America's energy sector.

Sign up for Sober Look's daily newsletter called the Daily Shot.

 

Why The Fed Will End QE On Wednesday

Courtesy of Lance Roberts of STA Wealth Management

This week we will find out the answer to whether the Federal Reserve will end its current quantitative easing program or not (click here for more discussion on this issue). Today is the last open market operation of the current program, and my bet is that it will be the last, for now. Here are my three reasons why I believe this to be the case.

1) Much Smaller Deficit Restricts Treasury Bond Issuance

Over the last few years, the Federal deficit has shrunk markedly as infighting between Republicans and Democrats has restricted government spending to a large degree while taxes were increased across a broad spectrum of American taxpayers. The good news is that the U.S. government is closer than in many years to running a balanced budget, although it is has been more by accident rather than through a logical approach of budgeting and waste reductions. The bad news is that deficit spending has been a major contributor to economic growth in the past and the reduction of such has been a drag on economic growth recently.

The chart below shows the level of federal spending, revenue and the deficit. I have added the Federal Reserve's balance sheet which has been a major buyer of U.S. debt in recent years.

Deficit-FedBalanceSheet-102714

One of the reasons, as I explained previously, that the Federal Reserve will allow the current QE program to conclude is because the shrinking deficit is reducing the number of bonds being sold by the Treasury.

"But in the economic recovery phase, the federal deficit commenced shrinking sooner than the Fed commenced tapering. There reached a point at which the Fed was acquiring more than 100% of the net new issuance of US government securities. At that point, the Fed's buying activity was withdrawing those securities from holders in the US and around the world. Essentially the Fed was bidding up the price and dropping the yield of those Treasury securities, and it was doing so in the long-duration end of the distribution of those securities.

The Fed has taken the duration of its assets from two years prior to the Lehman-AIG crisis all the way out to six years, which is the present estimate. It is hard to visualize the Fed taking that duration out any farther. There are not enough securities left, even if the Fed continues to roll every security reaching maturity into the longest possible available replacement security."

The chart below illustrates this point.

Fed-Balance-Sheet-Treasury-Issuance-102714

As you can see, the net change to the Federal Reserve's balance sheet swelled during each of the quantitative easing programs. The liquidity supplied flowed into the financial markets driving asset prices higher.  Importantly, notice the extreme level of balance sheet expansion during QE 3 which caused assets to surge in 2013. However, since the beginning of 2014, the balance sheet expansion has markedly slowed and along with it the inflation of asset prices.

Importantly, with the Treasury issuing fewer bonds due to reduced funding needs, the Federal Reserve can not keep the current pace of purchases going without the risk of potentially creating a liquidity problem within the credit markets. I am quite sure that the Federal Reserve is aware of this issue which is why, despite many bumps in the market this year, they have continued their pace of reductions without pause.

For investors this is critically important to understand, as shown above, there is a very important correlation between the Fed's QE programs and the liquidity flows that support asset prices. As that liquidity push is extracted from the financial markets, there will be a corresponding increase in market volatility. "Tapering" is in effect a "tightening" of monetary policy which historically slows the growth rate of asset prices.

2) Not Ending Program Could Send Wrong Message On Economy

Boston Federal Reserve President, Mr. Rosengren, recently stated that: the Fed's asset purchases have achieved their stated goal, the jobs report for September is already in and his economic forecasts have not changed.

"There has been substantial improvement in labor markets, and as a result I would be pretty comfortable [ending purchases] at the end of the month.”

"Fed Speak" holds much sway over the markets. After each meeting, as Janet Yellen gives her press conference, market participants are quick to parse her words and place market bets on what they think she is implying. Up to this point, each post-meeting confab has been a reaffirmation that the economy is improving enough to expand without the support of monetary policy. 

It is very likely that if the Federal Reserve decided to keep its current pace of bond purchases in place it would likely be interpreted that the economy is indeed not as strong as the statistical headlines suggest. Such an interpretation could lead to a repricing of risk, and a sharp decline in asset prices, that would potentially destabilize consumer confidence. This is not the outcome that the Federal Reserve is looking for.

3) Must Normalize Policy Before Next Recession

Most importantly, the economy is now more than five years into the current expansion. As shown in the chart below, we are now in the fifth longest economic expansion on record. This sounds great until you realize that has been achieved with the lowest level of economic growth of any post-WWII recovery.

Historical-Economic-Recoveries-102714

While much of the mainstream media, analysts and economists ignore normal economic cycles, it is very likely that we are closer to the next recession than not. This is not a bearish prognostication, but rather just the realization that despite the Fed's best intentions, normal economic and business cycles have not been repealed.

The problem for the Fed is that with the effective interest rate near ZERO, one of their most important monetary tools to offset recessionary drags within the economy has been removed. The chart below shows the history of the Fed's overnight lending rate as it compares to economic growth, the market and recessions.

Fed-Funds-Crisis-102714

Historically, each time there has been a crisis, or recession, the Fed has responded by dropping the effective Fed funds rates in order to induce borrowing and lending within the economy. As stated, with the rate near zero, the Fed is trapped without an important policy tool if the economy slips into a recession in the near future.

This is why they have been so vocal about raising short-term interest rates. The Federal Reserve needs to normalize monetary policy before the next recession hits in order to have some "working room" to stem off any potential future crisis. Ironically, there is a case to be made that the Fed's interest rate policy manipulations are a cause of economic crises and recessions.

For these reasons, I highly suspect that the Federal Reserve will announce the end of the current "QE" program during their post-FOMC conference on Wednesday. How the markets respond initially will be focused on what she "says," however, going forward the "lack of liquidity" may become a much more important issue.

“Will These Central Bank Morons Ever Learn?” asks Albert Edwards at Societe General

Courtesy of Mish.

Central Banks and the Business Cycle

I like it when someone besides a few financial bloggers takes the gloves off and starts asking some hard-hitting questions.

In Cross Asset Research last week, Albert Edwards at Societe General did just that. Emphasis in italics is mine.

Fragile and vulnerable in itself, the US recovery now battles against the rest of the world, which like a horror movie is dragging it down into a hellish Ice Age underworld. The problem is that at these stratospheric valuations, the market does not need to suffer an ACTUAL recession to see a crash. Like October 1987, just the fear of recession will be enough to trigger a massive market move.

On these pages we have a very simple thesis as to what will bring an end to this grotesque, QE-fueled market overvaluation. Simply put, the central banks for all their huffing and puffing cannot eliminate the business cycle. And they should have realised after the 2008 Great Recession that the longer they suppress volatility, both economic and market, the greater the subsequent crash. Will these morons ever learn?

The problem is that most risk assets, and especially equities and corporate bonds, are very expensive and priced for a long cycle. Meanwhile, this recovery has failed to generate any cyclical upward pressure to inflation – indeed quite the reverse. The global economy resembles a knackered old V8 engine which is now only firing on one cylinder (US). Hence, any data suggesting that the US economy is now also flagging were always likely to cause a meltdown as investors feared the imminent arrival of Japanese-style outright deflation. We note with interest that US 5-year inflation expectations in 5 years’ time have not fallen anything like as quickly as 5y expectations (see chart below). This suggests to me a continued misplaced market (over)-confidence about central banks’ ability to control events.

Only one day before last Wednesday’s flash crash, Guy Debelle, head of the BIS market committee, said investors had become far too complacent, wrongly believing that central banks can protect them, and many staking bets that are bound to “blow up” at the first sign of stress. A market loss of confidence in policy makers’ ability to control events has always been part of our Ice Age thesis. US inflation expectations in particular will fall an awful long way if investors fear the US cycle is about to fail.

I have always thought that this would all end the way Christopher Wood explained in his GREED and fear publication last November: “The key issue is what might trigger a market correction . The market consensus continues to focus on the tightening in financial conditions triggered by “tapering”. Still such a hypothetical correction is not so big a deal to GREED & fear, since any real equity decline caused by tapering is likely to lead, under a Fed run by Janet Yellen, to renewed easing. The real threat to US equities is when the American economy fails to re-accelerate as forecast”. Certainly, in my view , at these elevated valuations, it will not take much to bring down the entire ‘pyramid of piffle’.

Other Economic Illiterates

Just two days before Albert penned the above, a reader sent me a link to the Salon article America’s ugly economic truth: Why austerity is generating another slowdown by David Dayen.

Austerity amid recovery has been a disaster everywhere it’s been tried, and the fact that America’s course looks better right now than the more calamitous policy choices in Europe or the rest of the world brings little comfort. Anyway, a global slowdown, which appears to be the current path absent concerted action, will inevitably hit us at home.

David Wessel of the Brookings Institution is right to say that this terrible outlook for economic growth represents a choice by policymakers. With borrowing costs once again near historic lows, Congress could simply decide to finance some more investments. Europe could finally put an end to the economic straitjacket it’s chosen to wear for over half a decade. That dreaded dirty word – “stimulus” – could be employed once again.

US vs. Europe

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