CURRENCY WARS: Flash Points in the "Age of Rage"
The conflict in North Africa was a predictable outcome of the US Monetary Policy of Quantitative Easing. It is not plausible that the US Federal Reserve, as the manager of the world's Reserve Currency, did not fully recognize the global ramifications of such monetary inflationary actions well in advance. Quantitative Easing like the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) of the cold war era has had the same devastating pre-emptive impact on Libya.There can also be little doubt that the bi-monthly meetings of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) board of directors, which specifically meet to discuss coordinated monetary policy outcomes, did not consider this eventuality. The board of directors of this global power center includes all G7 Central Banks chiefs, with the conspicuous absence of a single member of the Arab League not receiving US military financial aid. MORE>>
TIPPING POINTS - Mapping the Critical 2011 Themes 2011 THESIS SIGN-UP PAGE
The conclusions of our "2011 Thesis - Beggar-thy-Neighbor" was that the world is on a glide path towards a global Fiat Currency Failure and the emergence of a New World Order. We are unclear whether it is planned or happenstance, but what our regularly conducted abstraction mapping process clearly indicates is that it is presently a high probability outcome. The paper (which will be made available to non subscribers March 11th, 2011- sign-up) uses the Process of Abstraction to avoid the media noise, abstract the facts, synthesis key macro drivers and then arrive at the highest probability outcomes. In the recent article "2011 Tipping Points" we laid out the 37 major Tipping Points we are presently tracking. These Tipping Points are show on the left hand side of the two charts below, which are the basis upon which our ongoing analysis process is conducted. These highly simplified representations of the process gives the reader a graphical perspective on what leads us to our conclusions. MORE>>
MARKET ANALYTICS - March 2011 THIS MONTH ONLY - Special Free 3 Month Trial Subscription Available
The market action since March 2009 is a bear market counter rally that is presently nearing a final end in a classic ending diagonal pattern. The Bear Market which started in 2000 will resume in full force by late spring of 2011. We presently have the early beginnings of a 'rolling top'. We are seeing broad based weakening analytics and cascading warning signals. This behavior is typically seen near major tops. This is all part of a final topping formation and a long term right shoulder technical construction pattern. MORE>>
PRESERVE and PROTECT - 2011 Tipping Points
Throughout my 2010 article series "Extend & Pretend" and "Sultans of Swap" I stressed that we were rapidly moving from the Financial Crisis of 2008, through the Economic Fallout of 2009 - 2010, towards a Political Crisis in 2011 - 2012. We are now clearly beginning to see the early emergence of the final part of this continuum. From North Africa to Wisconsin all are fundamentally based on the single insidious underlying problem - excessive global debt and credit levels. MORE>>
EURO EXPERIMENT - Beware of Lurking EU Bank Runs
This is a warning to prepare for potential stealth bank runs cascading from North Africa and Ireland through to EU regional banking centers. Stealth bank runs are the unrecognized and perilous serpent lurking presently below the European financial surface. They prey on slower moving archaic bond vigilantes and anyone else swimming in these dangerous uncharted waters. Investors need to fully appreciate that a modern bank run looks and operates differently than what is depicted in the movies and what we most likely expect to occur! MORE>>
CURRENCY WARS: Debase, Default, Deny!
In September 2008 the US came to a fork in the road. The Public Policy decision to not seize the banks, to not place them in bankruptcy court with the government acting as the Debtor-in-Possession (DIP), to not split them up by selling off the assets to successful and solvent entities, set the world on the path to global currency wars. MORE>>
03/13/2011 6:00 AM
Postings begin at 5:30am EST
and updated throughout the day
Articles open in new window
EU SOVEREIGN DEBT CRISIS
Eurozone debt deal struck - Governments to cut borrowing costs for peripheral economies - The heads of the eurozone’s 17 governments came to an unexpected deal on short-term measures to lower borrowing costs of struggling peripheral economies, agreeing to give more financial backing to the bloc’s €440bn rescue fund and lowering the interest rates on Greece’s bail-out loans.
The leaders also backed a plan to buy sovereign bonds of struggling governments when they are initially auctioned, a measure that could allow countries with high borrowing costs to raise cash at much lower yields.
Germany Sets Steep Price to Shore Up Euro Zone -Faced with financial turmoil that has resisted every emergency fix the European Union has adopted, European leaders are considering a radical step: giving up some of their independence to set domestic economic policies and cutting back many of the wage and welfare benefits that have defined the region’s politics for decades. In return, the European Union would provide funds to shore up the weakest member states, including Portugal, Greece and Spain.
The proposals, originally pressed by the newly assertive German chancellor, will be debated Friday in what is expected to be a contentious session of the leaders of the 17 countries.
European Central Bank Wants to Unload PIIGS Bonds -During the crisis, the European Central Bank began buying up bonds from debt-ridden countries like Greece. Now the bank wants to transfer responsibility for those securities to the EU's euro rescue fund. Meanwhile, the parliamentary group of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have issued a resolution opposing such bond purchases.
The Party Is Over - The major factors facing the economy and the market are coming to a head as the reality of a post-credit crisis economy becomes more and more apparent in the period ahead. The massive monetary and economic stimulus that saved us from another great depression and led to the current weak economic recovery is now creating more problems than solutions and there is no way out that does not involve some economic pain. The government has substituted government debt for private debt in the hopes of getting the economy to grow on a self-sustained basis. Modern economies need rising amounts of credit (debt) to grow, and we are faced with problem of reducing debt instead. At best, this means slow growth for years to come interspersed with more frequent recessions. At worst, it means outright collapse into another great depression.
Steer clear of US debt, expert warns - “Perhaps it is too late to do anything about the existing stock without causing a serious political and financial backlash. But at least China should stop continuing building up its holdings”
Stealing from Social Security to Pay for Wars and Bailouts - According to the official 2010 Social Security reports, between 1984 and 2009 the American people contributed $2 trillion, that is $2,000 billion, more to Social Security and Medicare in payroll taxes than was paid out in benefits.
What happened to the surplus $2,000 billion, or $2,000,000,000,000.
The government spent it.
Over the past quarter century, $2 trillion in Social Security and Medicare revenues have been used to finance wars and pork-barrel projects of the US government.
When Things Fall Apart - Financialization and centrally planned speculative credit bubbles have undermined the real economy: that's why things are falling apart. Things are falling apart because artifice, fraud and facsimiles have purchased complicity, and engineered concentrations of financial power that inevitably over-reach and implode.
A case of “mark-to-make-believe”? -
The key element of derivatives market reform is the central counter party (CCP), a clearing house designed to reduce and help manage credit risk in derivative transactions (known as counterparty risk). Regulators do not appear to understand the real risks embedded within the CCP. They may also be unable to develop and implement necessary risk management standards required to make the CCP work
But the CCP may not achieve its objective.
The Macroeconomic Effects of Large Exchange Rate Appreciations - Currency appreciations can help to a certain extent in reducing global imbalances, and that it can go along with a shift from a mainly export-based model of growth towards a model with internal sources of growth. The cost in terms of growth would be very limited in the case of developed countries, but somewhat larger for developing countries.
'Dr. Copper' thinks the market is sick - "The historical correlation between copper and the transports has been pretty tight and stable for the past 20 years," Kosar said. "So something now looks mispriced and it's probably the transports. That's a red flag."
Energy Sector Crushed - The S&P 500 Energy sector had been propping up the S&P 500 as a whole this year, but today the sector finally made its impact felt on the negative side with a huge decline of more than 3.5%. As shown in the chart of the sector below, the tight uptrend channel that had been in place since last December was broken today, and broken significantly.
The Coming Rout - There's a scenario that could play out between May and September in which commodities (including my beloved silver) and the stock and bond markets could all sell off between 20% and 40%. The trigger will be the cessation of QE II and a multi-month pause before QE III.
Save, Invest, Speculate, Trade or Gamble? - a competent economist (as distinguished from a political apologist, many of whom masquerade as economists) will correctly assess the current prosperity as an illusion. They'll recognize it as a natural cyclical upturn - a "dead cat bounce." The Greater Depression hasn't been chased away by Quantitative Easing - it's developing and about to get much more severe.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
COPYRIGHT & DISCLAIMER
Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. While he believes his statements to be true, they always depend on the reliability of his own credible sources. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, we encourage you confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.
"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."
The three rules of epidemics
Gladwell describes the "three rules of epidemics" (or the three "agents of change") in the tipping points of epidemics.
"The Law of the Few", or, as Gladwell states, "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts."According to Gladwell, economists call this the "80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the 'work' will be done by 20 percent of the participants."(see Pareto Principle) These people are described in the following ways:
Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together." They are "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances". He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Milgram's experiments in the small world problem, the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" trivia game, Dallas businessman Roger Horchow, and ChicagoanLois Weisberg, a person who understands the concept of the weak tie. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to "their ability to span many different worlds [... as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy."
Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information." They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is "almost pathologically helpful", further adding, "he can't help himself". In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, "A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people's problems, generally by solving his own". According to Gladwell, Mavens start "word-of-mouth epidemics" due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, "Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".
Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them. Gladwell's examples include California businessman Tom Gau and news anchorPeter Jennings, and he cites several studies about the persuasive implications of non-verbal cues, including a headphone nod study (conducted by Gary Wells of the University of Alberta and Richard Petty of the University of Missouri) and William Condon's cultural microrhythms study.
The Stickiness Factor, the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable. Popular children's television programs such as Sesame Street and Blue's Clues pioneered the properties of the stickiness factor, thus enhancing the effective retention of the educational content in tandem with its entertainment value.
The Power of Context: Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. As Gladwell says, "Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur." For example, "zero tolerance" efforts to combat minor crimes such as fare-beating and vandalism on the New York subway led to a decline in more violent crimes city-wide. Gladwell describes the bystander effect, and explains how Dunbar's number plays into the tipping point, using Rebecca Wells' novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, evangelistJohn Wesley, and the high-tech firm W. L. Gore and Associates. Gladwell also discusses what he dubs the rule of 150, which states that the optimal number of individuals in a society that someone can have real social relationships with is 150.
PROCESS OF ABSTRACTION
SOVEREIGN DEBT & CREDIT CRISIS
Inverted chart of 30-year Treasury yields courtesy of Doug Short and Chris Kimble. As you can see, yields are at a "support" area that's held for 17 years.
If it breaks down (i.e., yields break out) watch out!
The state budget crisis will continue next year, and it could be worse than ever. That's part of what's freaking out muni investors, who last week dumped them like they haven't in ages.
States face a $112.3 billion gap for next year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If the shortfall grows during the year -- as it does in most years -- FY2012 will approach the record $191 billion gap of 2010. Remember, with each successive shortfall state budgets have become more bare.
Things could be especially bad if House Republicans push through a plan to cut off non-security discretionary funding for states, opening an additional $32 billion gap.
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
SocGen crafts strategy for China hard-landing
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.
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).
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave his predictions on a House Republican plan to cut $60 billion dollars from the FY 2011 budget, saying it would eliminate 200, 000 jobs and only slightly lower economic growth.
He instead endorsed a Congressional federal deficit reduction plan that would take effect over a five to 10 year period, saying that markets look more towards Congressional action than the actual state of the economy. His remarks came during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in which he delivered his agency's semi-annual monetary report.
Despite Bernanke’s observations, several Republican lawmakers expressed doubt based on past efforts by the Fed and Congress to prompt economic growth through large stimulus packages.
Yesterday, the Fed Chair told the Senate Banking Committee that the U.S. economy will continue to grow this year despite rising oil prices, a high employment rate and weak housing market.
The 1978 Humphrey-Hawkins Act requires the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to deliver a report to Congress twice a year on its past economic policy decisions and discuss recent financial and economic developments.
For some perspective on the all-important real estate market, today's chart presents the median single-family home price divided by the price of one ounce of gold. This results in the home / gold ratio or the cost of the median single-family home in ounces of gold. For example, it currently takes 120 ounces of gold to buy the median single-family home. This is dramatically less than the 601 ounces it took back in 2001. When priced in gold, the median single-family home is down 80% from its 2001 peak (to a level last seen in 1980) and remains well within the confines of its six-year accelerated downtrend and not far off its 1980 trough.
The S&P 500 Energy sector had been propping up the S&P 500 as a whole this year, but today the sector finally made its impact felt on the negative side with a huge decline of more than 3.5%. As shown in the chart of the sector below, the tight uptrend channel that had been in place since last December was broken today, and broken significantly.
As Crossing Wall Streetpointed out earlier today, it was so bad for the sector that Exxon Mobil (XOM), the sector's largest stock, lost more in market cap than most other company's are worth!
"Copper was one of the first rallying points for this market two years ago as worldwide growth picked up," said Keith Springer, president of Springer Financial Advisors in Sacramento, Calif. "I'm not sure yet if it's a precursor of a big pullback, but it could be a sign that the global economy may be cooling off.
Here are the most recent monthly updates of the three valuation indicators I routinely follow:
* The relationship of the S&P Composite to a regression trendline (more)
* The cyclical P/E ratio using the trailing 10-year earnings as the divisor (more)
* The Q Ratio — the total price of the market divided by its replacement cost (more)
This post is essentially an overview and summary by way of chart overlays of the three. To facilitate comparisons, I've adjusted the Q Ratio and P/E10 to their arithmetic mean, which I represent as zero. Thus the percentages on the vertical axis show the over/undervaluation as a percent above mean value, which I'm using as a surrogate for fair value.
Based on the latest S&P 500 monthly data, the index is overvalued by 64%, 48% or 43%, depending on which of the three metrics you choose.
I've plotted the S&P regression data as an area chart type rather than a line to make the comparisons a bit easier to read. It also reinforces the difference between the two line charts — both being simple ratios — and the regression series, which measures the distance from an exponential regression on a log chart.
The chart below differs from the one above in that the two valuation ratios (P/E and Q) are adjusted to their geometric mean rather than their arithmetic mean (which is what most people think of as the "average").
The geometric mean weights the central tendency of a series of numbers, thus calling attention to outliers. In my view, the first chart does a satisfactory job of illustrating these three approaches to market valuation, but I've included the geometric variant as an interesting alternative view for P/E and Q.
Germany is calling for several measures:
1- Raising retirement ages to reduce the burden on pension funds,
2- Ending the linking of wages to increases in the cost of living,
3- Committing to debt reduction and
4- Submitting to a level of budget scrutiny that was until recently considered anathema — and is still viewed by many as a step too far.
Germany must agree to act as the region’s lender of last resort. And for that, Chancellor Angela Merkel, with political problems even within her own governing coalition, has a steep price. She has moved into a visible position of European leadership, trying to frame the debate in German terms and impose her will on her neighbors. “There’s a common understanding that we need to help Merkel get something that looks like a victory,” said a senior European Union official
The Germans would also force private bondholders who bought the high-yielding debt of the most troubled euro-zone countries to bear part of the burden if countries defaulted or needed to restructure their debt — and not be protected by taxpayers.
They have been working on at least three levels for a comprehensive package.
1- The most important is a “permanent regime” — the so-called European Stability Mechanism, which will replace the temporary bailout fund called the European Financial Stability Facility, set up during the Greek crisis last May. That fund ends in June 2013, and the Germans want a permanent fund of perhaps 500 billion euros ($695 billion) to show the markets that the euro zone is prepared for future problems. But that fund must also show Germans that private investors will not be bailed out by taxpayers, that no country will assume the debts of another and that there will be collateral offered and penalties for bad behavior.
2- The governments are also in heated discussions about whether and how to strengthen and extend the existing temporary fund of 440 billion euros ($612 billion), intended to help Greece and Ireland, to allow it to lend the entire amount, which could then cover Portugal and Spain. But Berlin does not want the fund to be used to buy back Greek or Irish bonds.
3- The issue that has gotten the most attention is the German-French Pact for Competitiveness, a name chosen for German ears. The intention was to lay down specific commitments to coordinate euro-zone economies — a common basis for corporate taxes for instance, or a common age for retirement — intended to unify policies across the region while raising tax revenue and reducing spending. Wage indexation was to be banned and high deficits punished.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time here discussing the 1) excesses in China and the 2) extraordinarily flawed monetary policy that China has maintained over the last few years. In a recent piece, Barry Eichengren of UC Berkeley succinctly expanded on this theme and concluded that a Chinese slow-down is “imminent”. Eichengren says there are three primary reasons why we should expect a slow-down:
1) “Slowdowns are also more likely in countries where the manufacturing sector’s share of employment exceeds 20%, since it then becomes necessary to shift workers into services, where productivity growth is slower. This, too, is now China’s situation, reflecting past success in expanding its manufacturing base.”
2) “Most strikingly, slowdowns come earlier in economies with undervalued currencies. One reason is that countries relying on undervalued exchange rates are more vulnerable to external shocks. Moreover, while currency undervaluation may work well as a mechanism for boosting growth in the early stages of development, when a country relies on shifting its labor force from agriculture to assembly-based manufacturing, it may work less well later, when growth becomes more innovation-intensive.”
3) “Finally, maintenance of an undervalued currency may cause imbalances and excesses in export-oriented manufacturing to build up, as happened in Korea in the 1990’s, and through that channel make a growth deceleration more likely.”
I think this is pretty accurate. China’s inflation issue are largely a direct result of their high growth and flawed fiscal and monetary policies. Their western textbooks have taught them that rates hikes or other measures will contain the inflation, but history is not on their side. The primary cause of lower inflation is recession. As Eichengren says, it’s not a matter of if, but when:
“For all these reasons, a significant slowdown in Chinese growth is imminent. The question is whether the world is ready, and whether other countries following in China’s footsteps will step up and provide the world with the economic dynamism for which we have come to depend on the People’s Republic.
When we last updated on the size of the shadow banking system, the financial "system" that is far more important to the economic prosperity of the US economy than the traditional liabilities held by conventional banks, we observed that after declining for 9 consecutive quarters, having hit a peak of $21 trillion in 2008, the shadow banking system had reached an inflection point and had posted a very modest increase at around $16 trillion in total liabilities in the third quarter of 2010. Well, following yesterday's Z.1 release, it seems the bulk of the data was revised, and it appears that not only was last quarter's upward pre-revision data a fluke, when in reality it was another decline of $191.7 billion, but the Q4 data further reinforced the negative trend, with shadow liabilities declining by an even greater $206.4 billion. The components responsible for the decline were ABS Issuers whose liabilities declined by $94 billion, securities loaned by funding corporations declining by $40 billion and lastly repos, which dropped by $79 billion. In other words, speculation that the Fed had achieved its goal of stimulating an organic reflation in the shadow banking system at which point it would be able to end QE and hand off releveraging over to the private sector were premature, and recent data confirms that the Fed has no choice now but to continue with its quantitative easing process, as it does more of the same: take capital from the public sector and proffer it to Primary Dealers in an attempt at ongoing asset reflation, which will, the theory goes, be matched by a comparable hike in liabilities.
So far this theory has been a massive disaster with 11 consecutive quarters of shadow banking liability declines. And where it gets far worse, is that after 5 consecutive increases in traditional bank liabilities which hit a record $13.1 trillion in Q3 2010, this number declined by $231 billion in Q4 to $12.8 trillion. Thus the combined move in Shadow and Traditional Banking liabilities was a whopping $438 billion in Q4!
Unfortunately, while events from Japan this morning may or may not be a catalyst for further QE, the biggest clue as to what the Fed will do is in the charts below.
Shadow banking subcomponents:
Sequential change in shadow banking liabilities:
Combined shadow and traditional bank liabilities:
Sequential change in shadow and traditional bank liabilities:
Botton line - Bernanke has once again failed to spark a "virtuous leveraging cycle" even with QE2, which after all is the fundamental goal of the Fed, far beyond even getting the Russell 2000 to 2000. Which means that the Fed will have no choice but to continue "printing" money, and monetizing bonds, as it (in conjunction with the Treasury of course) continues to be the only incremental source of leverage, and thus money, for the world's biggest economy.