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"The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point"
The tipping point is the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development. The term is said to have originated in the field of epidemiology when an infectious disease reaches a point beyond any local ability to control it from spreading more widely. A tipping point is often considered to be a turning point. The term is now used in many fields. Journalists apply it to social phenomena, demographic data, and almost any change that is likely to lead to additional consequences. Marketers see it as a threshold that, once reached, will result in additional sales. In some usage, a tipping point is simply an addition or increment that in itself might not seem extraordinary but that unexpectedly is just the amount of additional change that will lead to a big effect. In the butterfly effect of chaos theory , for example, the small flap of the butterfly's wings that in time leads to unexpected and unpredictable results could be considered a tipping point. However, more often, the effects of reaching a tipping point are more immediately evident. A tipping point may simply occur because a critical mass has been reached.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is a book by Malcolm Gladwell, first published by Little Brown in 2000. Gladwell defines a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." The book seeks to explain and describe the "mysterious" sociological changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, "Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do."
Gladwell describes the "three rules of epidemics" (or the three "agents of change") in the tipping points of epidemics.
PROCESS OF ABSTRACTION
SOVEREIGN DEBT & CREDIT CRISIS
MUNI BOND OUTFLOWS
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE - PHASE II
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
2011 will see the largest magnitude of US bank commercial real estate mortgage maturities on record.
2012 should be a top tick record setter for bank CRE maturities looking both backward and forward over the half decade ahead at least.
Will this be an issue for an industry that has been supporting reported earnings growth in part by reduced loan loss reserves over the recent past? In 2010, approximately $250 billion in commercial real estate mortgage maturities occurred. In the next three years we have four times that much paper coming due.
Will CRE woes, (published or unpublished) further restrain private sector credit creation ahead via the commercial banking conduit?
Wiil the regulators force the large banks to show any increase in loan impairment. Again, given the incredible political clout of the financial sector, I doubt it.
We have experienced one of the most robust corporate profit recoveries on record over the last half century. We know reported financial sector earnings are questionable at best, but the regulators will do absolutely nothing to change that.
So once again we find ourselves in a period of Fed sponsored asset appreciation. The thought, of course, being that if stock prices levitate so will consumer confidence. Which, according to Mr. Bernanke will lead to increased spending and a virtuous circle of economic growth. Oh really? The final chart below tells us consumer confidence is not driven by higher stock prices, but by job growth.
9 - CHRONIC UNEMPLOYMENT
There are 3 major inflationary drivers underway.
1- Negative Real Interest Rates Worldwide - with policy makers' reluctant to let their currencies appreciate to market levels. If no-one can devalue against competing currencies then they must devalue against something else. That something is goods, services and assets.
2- Structural Shift by China- to a) Hike Real Wages, b) Slowly appreciate the Currency and c) Increase Interest Rates.
3- Ongoing Corporate Restructuring and Consolidation - placing pricing power increasingly back in the hands of companies as opposed to the consumer.
FOOD PRICE PRESSURES
RICE: Abdolreza Abbassian, at the FAO in Rome, says the price of rice, one of the two most critical staples for global food security, remains below the peaks of 2007-08, providing breathing space for 3bn people in poor countries. Rice prices hit $1,050 a tonne in May 2008, but now trade at about $550 a tonne.
WHEAT: The cost of wheat, the other staple critical for global food security, is rising, but has not yet surpassed the highs of 2007-08. US wheat prices peaked at about $450 a tonne in early 2008. They are now trading just under $300 a tonne.
The surge in the FAO food index is principally on the back of rising costs for corn, sugar, vegetable oil and meat, which are less important than rice and wheat for food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Haiti. At the same time, local prices in poor countries have been subdued by good harvests in Africa and Asia.
- In India, January food prices reflected a year-on-year increase of 18%t.
- Buyers must now pay 80%t more in global markets for wheat, a key commodity in the world's food supply, than they did last summer. The poor are especially hard-hit. "We will be dealing with the issue of food inflation for quite a while," analysts with Frankfurt investment firm Lupus Alpha predict.
- Within a year, the price of sugar on the world market has gone up by 25%.
US STOCK MARKET VALUATIONS
WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
Potential credit demand to meet forecast economic growth to 2020
The study forecast the global stock of loans outstanding from 2010 to 2020, assuming a consensus projection of global
economic growth at 6.3% (nominal) per annum. Three scenarios of credit growth for 2009-2020 were modelled:
• Global leverage decrease. Global credit stock would grow at 5.5% per annum, reaching US$ 196 trillion in 2020. To
meet consensus economic growth under this scenario, equity would need to grow almost twice as fast as GDP.
• Global leverage increase. Global credit stock would grow at 6.6% per annum, reaching US$ 220 trillion in 2020.
Likely deleveraging in currently overheated segments militates against this scenario.
• Flat global leverage. Global credit stock would grow at 6.3% per annum to 2020, tracking GDP growth and reaching
US$ 213 trillion in 2020 – almost double the total in 2009. This scenario, which assumes that modest
deleveraging in developed markets will be offset by credit growth in developing markets, provides the primary credit
growth forecast used in this report.
Will credit growth be sufficient to meet demand?
Rapid growth of both capital markets and bank lending will be required to meet the increased demand for credit – and it is
not assured that either has the required capacity. There are four main challenges.
Low levels of financial development in countries with rapid credit demand growth. Future coldspots may result from the
fact that the highest expected credit demand growth is among countries with relatively low levels of financial access. In
many of these countries, a high proportion of the population is unbanked, and capital markets are relatively undeveloped.
Challenges in meeting new demand for bank lending. By 2020, some US$ 28 trillion of new bank lending will be
required in Asia, excluding Japan (a 265% increase from 2009 lending volumes) – nearly US$ 19 trillion of it in China
alone. The 27 EU countries will require US$ 13 trillion in new bank lending over this period, and the US close to US$
10 trillion. Increased bank lending will grow banks’ balance sheets, and regulators are likely to impose additional capital
requirements on both new and existing assets, creating an additional global capital requirement of around US$ 9 trillion
(Exhibit vi). While large parts of this additional requirement can be satisfied by retained earnings, a significant capital gap in
the system will remain, particularly in Europe.
The need to revitalize securitization markets. Without a revitalization of securitization markets in key markets, it is doubtful
that forecast credit growth is realizable. There is potential for securitization to recover: market participants surveyed by
McKinsey in 2009 expected the securitization market to return to around 50% of its pre-crisis volume within three years.
But to rebuild investor confidence, there will need to be increased price transparency, better data on collateral pools, and
better quality ratings.
The importance of cross-border financing. Asian savers will continue to fund Western consumers and governments:
China and Japan will have large net funding surpluses in 2020 (of US$ 8.5 trillion and US$ 5.7 trillion respectively), while
the US and other Western countries will have significant funding gaps. The implication is that financial systems must
remain global for economies to obtain the required refinancing; “financial protectionism” would lock up liquidity and stifle
US$ RESERVE CURRENCY
Société Générale fears China has lost control over its red-hot economy and risks lurching from boom to bust over the next year, with major ramifications for the rest of the world.
Société Générale said China's overheating may reach 'peak frenzy' in mid-2011
- The French bank has told clients to hedge against the danger of a blow-off spike in Chinese growth over coming months that will push commodity prices much higher, followed by a sudden reversal as China slams on the brakes. In a report entitled The Dragon which played with Fire, the bank's global team said China had carried out its own version of "quantitative easing", cranking up credit by 20 trillion (£1.9 trillion) or 50pc of GDP over the past two years.
- It has waited too long to drain excess stimulus. "Policy makers are already behind the curve. According to our Taylor Rule analysis, the tightening needed is about 250 basis points," said the report, by Alain Bokobza, Glenn Maguire and Wei Yao.
- The Politiburo may be tempted to put off hard decisions until the leadership transition in 2012 is safe. "The skew of risks is very much for an extended period of overheating, and therefore uncontained inflation," it said. Under the bank's "risk scenario" - a 30pc probability - inflation will hit 10pc by the summer. "This would cause tremendous pain and fuel widespread social discontent," and risks a "pernicious wage-price spiral".
- The bank said overheating may reach "peak frenzy" in mid-2011. Markets will then start to anticipate a hard-landing, which would see non-perfoming loans rise to 20pc (as in early 1990s) and a fall in bank shares of 50pc to 75pc over the following 12 months. "We think growth could slow to 5pc by early 2012, which would be a drama for China. It would be the first hard-landing since 1994 and would destabilise the global economy. It is not our central scenario, but if it happens: commodities won't like it; Asian equities won't like it; and emerging markets won't like it," said Mr Bokobza, head of global asset allocation. However, it may bring down bond yields and lead to better growth in Europe and the US, a mirror image of the recent outperformance by the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
- Diana Choyleva from Lombard Street Research said the drop in headline inflation from 5.1pc to 4.6pc in December is meaningless because the regime has resorted to price controls on energy, water, food and other essentials. The regulators pick off those goods rising fastest. The index itself is rejigged, without disclosure. She said inflation is running at 7.6pc on a six-month annualised basis, and the sheer force of money creation will push it higher. "Until China engineers a more substantial tightening, core inflation is set to accelerate.
- The longer growth stays above trend, the worse the necessary downswing. China's violent cycle could be highly destabilising for the world." Charles Dumas, Lombard's global strategist, said the Chinese and emerging market boom may end the same way as the bubble in the 1990s. "The basic strategy of the go-go funds is wrong: they risk losing half their money like last time."
- Société Générale said runaway inflation in China will push gold higher yet, but "take profits before year end".
- The picture is more nuanced for food and industrial commodities. China accounts for 35pc of global use of base metals, 21pc of grains, and 10pc of crude oil. Prices will keep climbing under a soft-landing, a 70pc probability. A hard-landing will set off a "substantial reversal". Copper is "particularly exposed", and might slump from $9,600 a tonne to its average production cost near $4,000. Chinese real estate and energy equities will prosper under a soft-landing,
- The bank likes regional exposure through the Tokyo bourse, which is undervalued but poised to recover as Japan comes out of its deflation trap. If you fear a hard landing, avoid the whole gamut of Chinese equities. It will be clear enough by June which of these two outcomes is baked in the pie.
PUBLIC SENTIMENT & CONFIDENCE
SHRINKING REVENUE GROWTH RATES
PIMCO'S NEW NORMAL: According to PIMCO, the coiners of the term, the new normal is also explained as an environment wherein “the snapshot for ‘consensus expectations’ has shifted: from traditional bell-shaped curves – with a high likelihood mean and thin tails (indicating most economists have similar expectations) – to a much flatter distribution of outcomes with fatter tails (where opinion is divided and expectations vary considerably).” That is to say, the distribution of forecasts has become more uniform (as per Exhibit 1).
Bank of America Merrill Lynch's January survey of fund managers has revealed some pretty interesting views about where we stand in the global recovery (via Zero Hedge).
The latest survey shows that most think we're just before the mid-cycle point, in terms of the recovery of the global economy. That means we've got a whole third of the pie left before we have to start worrying about a recession again.
It is a little troubling how fast the economy has moved from the beginning of the cycle to its middle. This time last year fund managers saw us at the early stage of the recovery, now 75% think we're mid-cycle.
So enjoy it while it lasts.
In November, Barclays PLC quietly changed the legal classification of the U.K. bank's main subsidiary in the U.S. so that the unit would no longer be subject to federal bank-capital requirements. Several other banks based outside the U.S. are considering similar moves, according to people familiar with the matter. The maneuver allows them to escape a provision of the financial-overhaul law that forces the pumping of billions of dollars of new capital into the U.S. entities, known as bank-holding companies. "It's just not worth it to have all that capital trapped" in the holding company, said a New York lawyer who is advising banks on how to restructure. The moves are the latest example of how banks are scrambling to cushion the impact of new laws and rules around the world.
To clear the 4% hurdle, Barclays likely would have needed to pump more than $12 billion in new capital into its U.S. holding company, or sharply reduce the holding company's assets. Instead, Barclays simply deregistered Barclays Group US as a bank-holding company, moving a credit-card operation into a new U.S. entity that is a direct subsidiary of the British parent company. The credit-card bank is regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and needs no additional injection of capital. The second business that was part of the U.S.-based bank-holding company, investment bank Barclays Capital Inc., is now regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission instead of federal banking regulators. Barclays disclosed the move this week in a footnote on Page 91 of its annual financial statements.
Policy makers are demanding banks hold more capital and cash to help prevent a repeat of the financial crisis. But bank executives are worried that all the changes will crimp profits
It seems incredible that the Fed is creating the third bubble within 11 years, but that is what is underway.
In the late 1990s the Fed kept the pedal on the gas and helped engender the dot-com bubble that collapsed with a 75% decline in the Nasdaq and 50% in the S&P 500. To prevent the economy from correcting the imbalances created in that era, the Fed kept the funds rate at 1% for an extraordinarily long time, thereby fostering the backdrop for the historic housing boom that also collapsed and came dangerously close to bringing down the global economic and financial system.
The initial gargantuan efforts by the Fed and the Administration and Congress to keep the economy from collapsing were necessary and effective. Since then, however, further stimulative programs have resulted in only a tepid economic recovery along with the addition of dangerous amounts of new debt and a soaring stock market that seems doomed to disappointment once again as in 2000-to-2002 and 2008-2009.
The Fed jump-started the stock market with two rounds of massive easing commonly known as QE1 and QE2. Not coincidentally, the market bottomed in March 2009 just as QE1 got underway. When that program, consisting of the Fed's purchase of $1.5 trillion of Treasury Bonds and mortgages, ended in April 2010, stocks dropped 17% in a few months. When stocks declined and the economy faltered Chairman Bernanke, at a late August meeting in Jackson Hole, announced the Fed's intentions to institute QE2, a program to buy $600 billion of 2-to10-year Treasury notes by June 30, 2011. Since that time the market began rising and hasn't stopped since. Notably the program, which actually began in October is pumping about $3.4 billion into the economy and assets every workday of the week.
The stated purpose of QE2, as outlined in a Washington Post op-ed column by Bernanke, is to pump up asset values with the hope that it would feed into the economy and to lower mortgage rates in an effort to aid the housing market. QE2 did goose the stock market, but appears to be failing miserably on a number of other fronts.
1- It has not helped housing, which is still in the doldrums, and has only marginally helped employment.
2- Furthermore the policy has created a lot more commodity inflation with higher prices for energy, food, cotton and a wide number of other items.
3- It has led to inflation in emerging nations that have begun tightening money to slow down their economies.
4- It has also caused a rise in long-term bond and mortgage rates, contrary to initial expectations.
5- In addition let's not overlook the contribution of food price inflation to the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the Mid-East.
Underlying all of these problems is the massive debt, both government and household, built up over the past few decades, particularly in the most recent one. Household debt has averaged about 55% of GDP over the last 60 years, but recently peaked at 98%, and is now down to 91%. As a percent of disposable personal income, household debt has averaged 75%, with a recent top of 130% and is currently at 117%. Similarly, government debt has averaged 66% of GDP and is now at a peak 108%, as government debt has recently risen more than private debt has dropped.
The problem, as everyone belatedly realizes, is that, as a nation we have far too much debt, both public and private. But debt is the fuel that enables economic growth. Without an increasing amount of debt the economy cannot grow and, in fact, shrinks. The hope is that by substituting government debt for household debt we can get the economy back on a normal growth path while also getting consumer balance sheets back into shape.
In our view the chances for success are dim. After all is said and done, debt is debt whether it's the government debt or private debt. And as Greece has shown, even governments cannot keep increasing their debts without severe consequences down the road. It seems the only way out is to reduce total national debt, both public and private. That would have dire consequences for the economy in the short run. On the other hand, continuing to increase debt as we have been doing may work in the very short run but in the end, is unsustainable. And note that QE2 ends in June. After that, any further stimulus is probably politically impossible anyway, given the climate in Washington and the various state governments. This will all become obvious to the market soon enough, and once again they will say nobody saw it coming.
|Bogus Official Numbers vs.||Real Numbers (per Shadowstats.com)|
|Annual U.S. Consumer Price Inflation reported February 17, 2011|
|1.63%||9.07% (annualized January, 2011 Rate)|
|U.S. Unemployment reported February 4, 2011|
|U.S. GDP Annual Growth/Decline reported January 28, 2011|
|U.S. M3 reported February 12, 2011 (Month of January, Y.O.Y.)|
|No Official Report||-- 2.21%|
Deception at the Fed
For the past three decades, the Federal Reserve has been given a dual mandate: keeping prices stable and maximizing employment. This policy relies not only on the fatal conceit of believing in the wisdom of supposed experts, but also on numerical chicanery.
Rather than understanding inflation in the classical sense as a monetary phenomenon-- an increase in the money supply- it has been redefined as an increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is calculated based on a weighted basket of goods which is constantly fluctuating, allowing for manipulation of the index to keep inflation expectations low. Employment figures are much the same, relying on survey data, seasonal adjustments, and birth/death models, while the major focus remains on the unemployment rate. Of course, the unemployment rate can fall as discouraged workers drop out of the labor market altogether, leading to the phenomenon of a falling unemployment rate with no job growth.
In terms of keeping stable prices, the Fed has failed miserably. According to the government's own CPI calculators, it takes $2.65 today to purchase what cost one dollar in 1980. And since its creation in 1913, the Federal Reserve has presided over a 98% decline in the dollar's purchasing power. The average American family sees the price of milk, eggs, and meat increasing, while packaged household goods decrease in size rather than price.
Loose fiscal policy has failed to create jobs also. Consider that we had a $700 billion TARP program, nearly $1 trillion in stimulus spending, a government takeover of General Motors, and hundreds of billions of dollars of guarantees to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD, FDIC, etc. On top of those programs the Federal Reserve has provided over $4 trillion worth of assistance over the past few years through its credit facilities, purchases of mortgage-backed securities, and now its second round of quantitative easing. Yet even after all these trillions of dollars of spending and bailouts, total nonfarm payroll employment is still seven million jobs lower than it was before this crisis began.
In this same period of time, the total U.S. population has increased by nine million people. We would expect that roughly four million of these people should have been employed, so we are really dealing with eleven million fewer employed people than would otherwise be expected.
It should not be surprising that monetary policy is ineffective at creating actual jobs. It is the effects of monetary policy itself that cause the boom and bust of the business cycle that leads to swings in the unemployment rate. By lowering interest rates through its loose monetary policy, the Fed spurs investment in long-term projects that would not be profitable at market-determined interest rates. Everything seems to go well for awhile until businesses realize that they cannot sell their newly-built houses, their inventories of iron ore, or their new cars. Until these resources are redirected, often with great economic pain for all involved, true economic recovery cannot begin.
Over $4 trillion in bailout facilities and outright debt monetization, combined with interest rates near zero for over two years, have not and will not contribute to increased employment. What is needed is liquidation of debt and malinvested resources. Pumping money into the same sectors that have just crashed merely prolongs the crisis. Until we learn the lesson that jobs are produced through real savings and investment and not through the creation of new money, we are doomed to repeat this boom and bust cycle.
Remember, if Bahrain can go, so can Saudi, which is one of the biggest wideners on the day. Bear in mind that nailed the upheaval in Egypt well in advance. Earlier today a Saudi prince epxressed worry that the revoluion in Bahrain and Egypt could spread to the Kingdom
Eric Jenzen - The Media
The debate process is itself broken.
No book of major significance is going to get much national attention, our media being what it is today. The best economics-related books out there are the books you’ve never heard of, where they get lost in the heap of Glenn Beck type books. These books live outside the extremist framework of discussion that the FIRE Economy media creates so they get no national media attention, so you have to go look for them. The debate process is itself broken.
For example the debate about inflation or deflation as potential outcomes of the US credit bubble. They have for years been debated as equally likely and viable outcomes, when in fact one is as likely as summer in the northern hemisphere in August and the other as likely as Paris Hilton inventing a stem cell cure for cancer. The debate should have been about what kind of inflation we’ll have, that we are now having. But for a country that’s ballooned its external Treasury debt from $1.4 trillion to $4.5 trillion in six years, and faces impossible refinancing costs should interest rates rise to reflect the actual rate of default and inflation risk facing the US bond market, a debate about inevitable inflation is put off until the inflation evidence becomes undeniable. By then it’s too late for most people to protect themselves – gold, silver, and commodities prices in general will have already anticipated the event.
Same deal for the stock market and housing bubbles. The system provides belief formation cover for a period of time, long enough for a group of interested parties to, for example, make off with money from sales of worthless securitized mortgage securities before the roof caves in, if you’ll excuse the pun. It’s a perverse application of the system of propaganda that Edward Bernays explained in his book titled “Propaganda” in 1928, back before the term carried negative connotations.
CI: Your book idea? EJ: It explains how the American media operates today.
- Objective one is to arm readers with a tool for self-defense, to prevent them getting sucked into the latest scam, whether it’s like the New Economy scam of the dot com era, the dream of home ownership scam of the housing bubble, or the weapons of mass destruction scam of the Iraq War.
- Objective two is that you can’t fix a broken system if you don’t know how it’s broken. It’s not simply an issue of media ownership concentration. The system is more subtle than that. I haven’t seen any book that adequately explains it, and going into the Peak Cheap Oil era it will be critical for Americans to understand how opinion formation is accomplished by special interests, else the public policy response is likely to be highly unconstructive, with the vast majority of Americans passionately pushing for policies that are completely against their own interests.
CI: As they did in the case of the health care debate?
EJ: Yes, as they did in the case of the so-called health care so-called “debate.” That debate was framed by health insurance companies. The key principle is this: whoever frames the debate wins the debate. The objective for a group of interests is to narrow the debate to two positions, the average of which is a positive outcome for the interested parties. The health care “debate” was framed between death panels versus free enterprise. The health care plan we got as a result was a compromise between two absurd extremes. Imagine if the debate was instead about which approach achieves the lowest economic rents and management overhead, helps the most citizens, best promotes sickness prevention, encourages medical technology innovation, and motivates bright young people to enter the medical industry? Instead, in the end the health insurers gave up the immoral privilege of denying coverage to those who most need it, a privilege they should never of had in the first place, in exchange for 40 million new customers at taxpayer expense. Good deal for the health insurers, bad deal for the American people. And it will happen again and again and again as long as the system persists. My friends in Europe and Asia watch slack jawed at the way public policy issues are debated in the US. But most Americans have no idea how broken our media is, yet wonder why nothing gets fixed.
CI: That is an important book for the country, but do you think the national media will promote a book that criticizes the national media?
EJ: I'd write it in such as way as to stimulate debate about public policy debate itself, not vilify the media. I have friends in the media going back to my college days and they don’t like the system, either. Many are approaching retirement age and aren’t in a position to try to provoke reform from within, so it will have to be the next generation of journalists that leads the charge. This all presumes I find the time to write it.
For those that actually belief what the government releases - even the CPI can't hide the reality!
There’s the pig pile effect of fund managers throwing in the towel and jumping in because they look bad sitting on the sidelines while their braver competition that got back in earlier rakes in the big returns. Every quarter that a fund manager sits out the party, the more painful it is. Then there’s the escape from bonds into stocks to balance inflation risks. But any discussion of the stock market requires historical context.
Since the birth of the FIRE Economy in the early 1980s, the US stock markets have gone through three distinct periods that correlate to developments in the political economy. The first is the 1983 – 1995 disinflationary boom as interest rates fell. The debt structure of the entire economy was re-financed at ever lower interest rates for 12 years. Next came the 1995 – 2002 stock market bubble and bust that developed out of the extraordinary changes in reserves rules and regs (see What Really Happened in 1995?). Next came the 2002 – 2009 housing bubble and bust housing bubble and bust. Finally, we get to the period we are in today.