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About That US Recession…

by Tyler Durden

Whenever the annual change in core capex, also known as Non-Defense Capital Goods excluding Aircraft shipments goes negative, the US has traditionally entered a recession. Where is this number now: +0.8%, and declining fast. Feeling lucky?

Of course, in no other previous recession, was the US Fed holding $3.5 trillion in securities and increasing at a pace of $85 billion per month.

Source: Dept of Commerce

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INFLATION On The Way

J. D. Longstreet

A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet

Let me be clear. I am not an economist. Heck, I’m not even a CPA. Frankly, I know squat about finance short of running a business and having the good sense to hire someone to handle the financial end of the business — extremely well.

Here, at the Longstreet Manor, my lovely and gracious (and long-suffering!) spouse is the financier. She is my “Personal Banker.” No, I MEAN IT! She has kept me out of jail, debtor’s prison, or wherever they place men like me (who spend all the money they can lay their hands on.)

See, I view money as having been made for one purpose — to spend! And yes, I have been told all my life that one cannot take it with them when one departs this world. Although, I did meet a hearse once, out on the interstate, towing a U-Haul trailer behind it. I remarked to my wife at the time, that, perhaps, someone HAD figured out a way to take it with them, after all!

I distinctly remember a member of my board of directors insisting once, many years ago, that if he couldn’t take it with him, the he wasn’t going! Today’s he’s gone — and so is his money. Oh, he didn’t take it with him. No, after he passed from the scene, the family spent the heck out of it until, it, too, was gone!

This may seem strange and even alien to some of you, but I never sought wealth. It was never important to me. Having ample funds to stay fed, clothed, housed, and out of jail was sufficient. So far, I have managed to do that.

I think an aunt made such an impression on me, as a child, that it bent me in a way one might even describe as fear of wealth.

See, my aunt ,was the daughter of a share cropper. (I’m the first generation off the farm, myself.) She was fortunate. She married a man on the way up in one of the most powerful labor unions in the country at the time. They became wealthy. But it affected my aunt in a strange way. She was always afraid — afraid of losing her wealth and returning, I suppose, to the poverty she knew growing up as a hard scrabble sharecropper. She invested wisely, had plenty of money, real estate, stocks, bonds, all of it. But what she lacked was happiness.

I decided then and there, I did not want that. I chose an occupation that I loved, was, indeed, suited for and I stayed with it for thirty years.

Now that I have established my bona fides — which is to say that I am dumb as a post when it comes to high finance, I am about to tell you why Ben Bernanke blew the US economy to hell recently with QE-3.

In a word: INFLATION.

The money you had before QE-3 is now worth less — and the more money Ben and his cronies order printed — the less your money will be worth.

Bernanke, a Jew and a Republican, was born in Augusta, Georgia and raised just thirty miles, or so, from where I sit as I write this piece. It’s a small country town in the coastal plain of South Carolina. So, we are both “Sandlappers.” And as much as I would like to agree with, and support, a fellow son of the Palmetto State, and a fellow Republican, I cannot. He’s wrong on this and, unfortunately, all Americans are going to pay for it, dearly, in the not too distant future.

Ben Bernanke

It pains me to say this, but I am of the mind that Ben really wants Obama to win the coming election. See, Mr. Romney has already said he intends to replace Mr. Bernanke if he is elected. So, it stands to reason that if Bernanke can make the President look good, or even better, in the few weeks left ’til election day, Obama may be reelected and — guess what — Ben gets to keep his cushy job!

See? Politics ain’t all that hard, now, is it?

Seriously, inflation brings the mighty low… quickly! To get a better understanding of what inflation, especially hyperinflation can do to a country just Google “Weimar Republic” or “Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic.”

During the Gerald Ford Administration the US had a fight with inflation. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, those big red WIN buttons — Whip Inflation Now!” It took a toll on the country that lasted the remainder of Ford’s Administration, through the Carter Administration, and right up until Ronald Reagan came into office. It was an anvil around the neck of the US economy.

As I said, I don’t know diddly-squat about high finance so I can’t dazzle you with great gobs of numbers with dollar signs and percentage signs, etc., but take it from a guy who was trying to run a business during those years and believe me when I tell you it was “hunker down” and “tread water” time during those years. Reagan tossed the country a life-preserver and we got through it — vowing never to make the same mistake again.

But Americans have extremely short memories. As a result, we are making the same mistakes over and we are inflicting unnecessary pain on ourselves.

The MSM was touting the skyrocket in the stock markets after Bernanke made the announcement. And, yes, it DID look good. But, believe me — it is a bubble and IT WILL BURST — and we will be far worse for it in the end.

J. D. Longstreet

INFLATION On The Way … J. D. Longstreet.

Fed Up: Bernanke Declares War On The Poor

September 14, 2012

This week, we saw both the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve deliver massive amounts of stimulus to the markets.

The ECB is now backed by the 500 billion euro European Stability Mechanism facility, which has been ratified by the German parliament. This is a game-changer for Europe, as now it is finally moving toward a federalist system, similar to the one in the United States. This measure has been successful in bringing down the bond yields for Spain, Italy and Ireland to a very manageable level. And it is likely that those central banks might not even need to tap the ESM.

The big surprise this week, however, came from the Federal Reserve.

The Fed has decided to go all-out in fueling the next massive asset bubbles through its QE3 bazooka. The Fed announced plans to buy $40 billion worth of mortgage securities per month on an open-ended basis, while continuing to reinvest its income from the securities purchased during QE1 and QE2.

The following statement from the Fed shows its clear intent to support its mandate of full employment. But I fail to see how it will manage to do that “in the context of price stability” while creating asset price inflation through unabashed QE programs.

If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the Committee will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability.

This new move by the Fed is unleashing massive amounts of money into the risk assets. Markets will now believe that, between the ECB and the Fed, all tail risks to the markets have gone.

In other words, this could mean that all the money that was hiding in the safety of U.S. Treasuries will now leave the Treasury markets and flow into equities and commodities.

If so, I would not be surprised to see a parabolic move into year-end in both gold and equities that could take the S&P 500 to 1,650 and gold to $2,000 per troy ounce by year-end.

Now here is the dangerous side to this equation. This rally will also lead oil and grains to new highs, which will results in higher gas prices at the pump and food prices at the grocery store. While employment and wages are still low, this will hurt the working class.

This massive and irresponsible Fed stimulus package by Ben Bernanke & Co. will make the rich richer by fueling their asset portfolios and bringing loads of misery to the poor, who will find it harder to make ends meet.

Besides the poor, this latest move also declares war on the retirees or those who subsist on fixed income returns from bonds. With the Fed’s monetary policy stuck at zero for another three years at least and more Federal money creating artificial demand for fixed income assets, yields will not rise for quite a while. This means that the coupons on newly issued government and agency bonds will be stuck at below inflation rates.

Another debilitating aspect of the latest round of QE is that by removing coupon generating bonds from the monetary system, it reduces the amount of money in the economy, thus reducing aggregate demand.

In summary, QE will reduce net savings of U.S. dollar holders and increase paper wealth in terms of higher equity market valuations.

While the initial reaction of the markets has been to sell the U.S. dollar, fewer U.S. dollars as a result of QE will result in the dollar eventually rallying hard, especially against the EUR. My target will be around 1.3500 before EUR/USD starts heading back down towards parity.

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The Evidence Of A Coming Recession Is Overwhelming

by Comstock Partners

We first noticed the first signs that the economy was beginning to soften about three months ago.  Now the evidence of a slowdown has become so overwhelming that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are headed for a recession.  We cite the following as evidence.

Retail sales (both total and non-auto) have dropped for three consecutive months.  This has happened only five times since 1967—-four times in 2008, and one now.  Vehicle sales have tapered off with May and June being the two weakest months of the year.  Consumer confidence for both the Conference Board index and the University of Michigan Survey are at their lowest levels of 2012.

On the labor front, June payroll numbers were weak once again and averaged only 75,000 in the second quarter. The latest weekly new claims for unemployment insurance jumped back up to 386,000 and the last two months have been well above the numbers seen earlier in the year.

The ISM manufacturing index for June fell 3.8 points to 49.7, its first sub-50 reading in the economic recovery.  The ISM non-manufacturing index for June dropped to its lowest level since January 2010.  Most recently the Philadelphia Fed Survey for July was negative (below zero) for the third consecutive month.

The small business confidence index declined in June to its lowest level since October and has now dropped in three of the last four months.  Plans for capital spending and new hiring have dropped sharply.

Despite all of the talk about a housing bottom, June existing home sales fell 5.4% to its lowest level since the fall of last year.  In addition mortgage applications for home purchases have been range-bound since October.

Core factory orders, while volatile on a month-to-month basis, have declined 2.6% since year-end, and the ISM numbers cited above indicate the weakness is likely to continue.

The Conference Board Index of leading indicators has declined for two of the last three months and is now up only 1.4% over a year earlier, the lowest since November of 2009, when it was climbing from recessionary numbers.  The ECRI Weekly Leading Index is indicating a recession is either here now or will begin in the next few months.

The breadth and depth of the slowdown are greater than the growth pauses experienced in mid-2010 and mid-2011, and indicate a strong likelihood of recession ahead.  In addition the foreign economies will be a drag as well.  A number of European nations are already in recession and others are on the cusp.  The debt, deficit and balance sheet problems of the EU’s southern tier are a long way from any solution, and will not remain out of the news for long.  China is coming down from a major real estate and credit boom, and is not likely to avoid a hard landing.  The Shanghai Composite is in a major downtrend, declining 28% since April 2011.  The view that China is immune because of their unique economic system reminds us of what people were saying about Japan in 1989.

The stock market is ignoring these fundamentals as it did in early 2000 and late 2007 in the belief that the Fed can pull another rabbit out its hat.  It couldn’t do it in 2000 or 2007 when it had plenty of weapons at its disposal.  Now there is little that the Fed can do, although it will try since it will not get any help, as Senator Schumer so aptly pointed out at Bernanke’s Senate testimony.  In sum, we believe that the stock market is in store for a huge disappointment.

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Banker to the Bankers Knows the Numbers Are Lying

By Jonathan Weil
 Jun 28, 2012 5:30 PM CT

The Bank for International Settlements, which acts as a bank for the world’s central banks, should know fudged numbers when it sees them. What may come as a surprise is how openly it has been discussing the problem of bogus balance sheets at large financial companies.

“The financial sector needs to recognize losses and recapitalize,” the Basel, Switzerland-based institution said in its latest annual report, released this week. “As we have urged in previous reports, banks must adjust balance sheets to accurately reflect the value of assets.” The implication is that many banks are showing inaccurate numbers now.

Unfortunately the BIS’s suggested approach is almost all carrot and no stick. “The challenge is to provide incentives for banks and other credit suppliers to recognize losses fully and write down debt,” the report said. “Supporting this process may well call for the use of public sector balance sheets.”

So there you have it. More than four years after the financial crisis began, it’s so widely accepted that many of the world’s banks are burying losses and overstating their asset values, even the Bank for International Settlements is saying so — in writing. (The BIS’s board includes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank.) It fully expects taxpayers to pick up the tab should the need arise, too.

No Change

In this respect, little has changed since the near-meltdown of 2008, especially in Europe. Spain has requested 100 billion euros ($125 billion) to rescue its ailing banks. Italy, perhaps the next in line for a European Union bailout, is weighing plans to boost capital at some of the country’s lenders through sales of their bonds to the government.

Those bank rescues almost certainly won’t be the last. All but four of the 28 companies in the Euro Stoxx Banks Index (SX7E) trade for less than half of their common shareholder equity, which tells you investors don’t believe the companies’ asset values. While it may be true that the accounting standards are weak, the bigger problem is they are often not followed or enforced.

Government bailouts might be easier for the world’s taxpayers to swallow if banks were required to be truthful about their finances, as part of their standard operating procedure. Nowhere in its report did the BIS discuss the role of law enforcement, although the last time I checked it’s against the law in most developed countries to knowingly publish false financial statements. There have been few fraud prosecutions against executives from large financial institutions in recent years, in the U.S. or elsewhere, much to citizens’ outrage.

In the BIS’s eyes, it seems that it’s enough to merely encourage or incentivize banks to come clean about their losses, by dangling the prospect of additional taxpayer support before them. For example, on the subject of how to deal with overvalued mortgage loans: “One frequently used option is to set up an asset management company to buy up loans at attractive prices, i.e., slightly above current market valuations,” the BIS report said. “Alternatively, authorities can subsidize lenders or guarantee the restructured debt when lenders renegotiate loans.”

The BIS report got this much right: The lack of transparency and credibility in banks’ balance sheets fuels a vicious cycle. When investors can’t trust the books, lenders can’t raise capital and may have to fall back on their home countries’ governments for help. This further pressures sovereign finances, which in turn weakens the banks even more. The contagion spreads across borders. There is no clear end in sight.

Propping Up

To date, the task of propping up the economies in Europe and the U.S. has fallen largely to central banks. As the BIS wrote, easy-money policies also can make balance-sheet repairs harder to accomplish.

“Prolonged unusually accommodative monetary conditions mask underlying balance sheet problems and reduce incentives to address them head-on,” the report said. “Similarly, large- scale asset purchases and unconditional liquidity support together with very low interest rates can undermine the perceived need to deal with banks’ impaired assets.”

At some point, the cycle will break, only nobody knows when. This you can count on: It will take more than subtle inducements to make banks fess up to all their losses. Prosecutors must have a role. There’s nothing like the threat of a courtroom trial to focus a bank executive’s mind. The risk just has to be real.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Weil in New York at jweil6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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