October 22, 2019

"We're Being Robbed" - Central Bank 'Stimulus' Is Really A Huge Redistribution Scheme

When an economy turns from expansion to contraction there is an order of events. The first signs are an unexpected increase in inventories of unsold goods, both accompanied with and followed by business surveys indicating a general softening in demand. For monetarists, this is often confirmed by an inverting yield curve, which tells them that at the margin the short-term rates set by the central bank are becoming too high for business conditions.

That was the position for the US 10-year bond less the 2-year bond very briefly at the end of August, since when this measure, which is often taken to predict recessions, has turned mildly positive again. A generally negative sentiment, fueled mainly by the escalating tariff war between America and China, had earlier alerted investors to an international trade slowdown, expected to undermine the American economy in due course along with all the others. It stands to reason that backward-looking statistics have yet to reflect the global slowdown on the US economy, which is still buoyed up by consumer credit. The German economy, which is driven by production rather than consumption is perhaps a better guide and is already in recession.

After an initial hit, a small recovery in investor sentiment is understandable, with the negative outlook perhaps having got ahead of itself. But we must look beyond that. History shows the combination of a peak in the credit cycle and tariffs can be economically lethal. A brief return to a positive yield curve achieves little more than a sucker rally. It may be enough to put further monetary expansion on pause. But when that is over, and jobs begin to be threatened, there can be no doubt that central banks will ramp up the printing presses.

So reliant have markets become on monetary expansion that the default assumption is that an economy will always be rescued from recession by an easing of monetary policy, and furthermore that monetary inflation will prevent it from being any more than mild and short. We see this in the performance of stock market indices, which reflect perpetual optimism.

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October 21, 2019

Here Is The Real Reason The Fed Restarted QE

In the past month, a feud has erupted in the financial media and across capital markets between defenders of the Fed, who praise the return of its unprecedented easing in the form of $60BN in monthly T-Bill purchases, by refusing to call it by its real name, and instead the Fed's fanclub calls it "not QE" (just so it doesn't appear that ten years after the Fed first launched QE, we are back to square one), and those who happen to be intellectually honest, and call the largest permanent expansion in the Fed's balance sheet, meant to ease financial conditions and boost liquidity across the financial sector, for what it is: QE.

It is this same "not QE" that has boosted the Fed's balance sheet by $200BN in one month, the fastest rate of increase since the financial crisis.

Yet while the Fed's desire to purchase Bills instead of coupon Treasuries was dictated by its superficial desire to distinguish the current "Not QE" from previous "True QEs", even though both tends to inject the same amount of liquidity into the system, which as a reminder is what the Fed's bailout role in the past 11 years has all been about, and only true Fed sycophants are unable to call a spade a spade, the Fed's choice raises a rather thorny question of where the Fed will source those T-bills, because as JPMorgan calculates, the net supply of Bills in 4Q19 and 1Q20 is around $115-$130bn while JPM's economists estimate that at least $200-$250bn of purchases could be required to return reserves to around $1.5tr where they were in early September this year.

That means the Fed might need to source purchases from money-market funds and foreign central banks - which paradoxically would serve to further drain liquidity out of the system. As such, given the limited alternatives, JPM's Nikolas Panagirtzoglou believes that the Fed may be reluctant to do so and if they do, some may chose to leave cash in the Fed’s ON RRP facility which would represent a drain on reserves and make T-bills a less efficient vehicle for reserve creation.

Another key question: what if just returning to the previous reserve baseline is not sufficient, and the Fed needs to return reserves to a higher level than $1.5tr? Indeed, with close to $200bn of reserves injected via overnight and term repos for much of this week...

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October 18, 2019

HSBC Considers Slashing Equity Desks In London, New York, Germany

A mass exodus could be developing among major financial institutions, who seek to divest their equity sales and trading units.

Deutsche Bank and Nomura have already made it clear that they're reviewing their trading cash equities units because of profitability concerns.

Now HSBC might follow suit, sources told Bloomberg, adding that the bank could exit stock trading in Western markets as part of a significant overhaul program.

HSBC could slash trading units in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France, in the near term, the source said. The bank's Asian equities operations wouldn't be affected by the overhaul.

HSBC will concentrate on the Greater China region, rather than Western markets in the 2020s, another source explained.

HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker has spent the last several years restructuring the bank. He appointed Noel Quinn, the interim chief executive, in August, as a push to continue strengthening the bank through new, innovative cost-cutting measures.

The strategy by HSBC could cut at least 45 traders in New York.

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October 17, 2019

High-Income Millennials Say They'll "Need To Work Forever" Due To Lack Of Savings

The economy isn't even in a full-blown recession yet, but nearing one, and high-income millennials are already saying they'll need to work "forever" because they don't have enough savings, stated a new study via Spectrem Group, a wealth advisory company, first reported by Bloomberg. It certainly seems that after the financial crash of 2008/09, the economic environment for millennials ages 30 to 34 changed for the worst. 

High-income millennials as a whole are maxed out on credit cards, student loans, auto loans, and if they're fortunate enough, have insurmountable mortgage debts. Their debt servicing payments have left many of them without savings, but it depends on which millennials you ask. 

The study says 50% of high-income millennials ages 30 to 34 feel that they will work forever because their savings are depleted.

Meanwhile, younger millennials, 29 or less, ones who graduated college after the financial crash, so the economy was already in an upswing, are more optimistic in retiring. Only 25% of them say they will need to work forever because of savings issues. 

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October 16, 2019

Shanghai Housing Sales Plunge 86% In Golden Week

Golden Week, a seven-day Chinese holiday, is traditionally a peak period for home sales.

This year, sales plummeted.

The South China Post reports ‘Golden Week’ Property Sales Plunge in Major Chinese Cities.

Property sales in China’s major cities saw one of their worst “golden week” holidays in years, as buyers held back amid a slowing economy and tight restrictions on mortgage loans.

Sales of new homes in Beijing dropped to their lowest level since 2014 during the week following the National Day holiday, according to data from the property information portal Zhuge.com.

By area, sales of new homes in Shanghai plummeted 86 per cent to 5,000 square metres, while the capital saw a 92 per cent plunge to 2,000 sq metre, according to data from Centaline Property.

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October 15, 2019

The Biggest Problem For The Aramco IPO

From almost the very moment in 2016 when Saudi Arabia first announced that it was to float its state-owned oil and gas behemoth, Saudi Aramco, in a dual domestic and international listing, the pool of possibilities for the foreign side of the initial public offering (IPO) has steadily reduced. This has been a result of a simple equation: the more that would-be investors know about Saudi Arabia and Aramco the less appealing the prospect of having anything to do with them becomes. However, because Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Mbs) has staked his personal reputation – and his political future – on the Aramco IPO going ahead in some form, he and his bankers are currently rooting around for at least one international bourse upon which to execute the foreign listing part of the omni-toxic Aramco.

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was one of the original top-two favored candidates, alongside the London Stock Exchange (LSE), as these two bourses are rightly seen as the most liquid, most traded, and most prestigious stock exchanges in the world. Early on, though, a number of major problems began to bubble up for a listing of any Saudi company and particularly Aramco in the U.S. Aside from the usual farrago of lies from Saudi about oil reserves, spare capacity, tax rates, concessions, non-hydrocarbons activities and so on with which investors have now become familiar, a key early sticking point was Saudi Arabia’s perceived links with the ‘9/11’ terrorist attacks.

Of the 19 terrorists who hijacked planes on ‘9/11’, no less than 15 were Saudi nationals. Following the overriding by the U.S. Congress of former President Barack Obama’s veto of the ‘Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act’, making it possible for victims’ families to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, at least seven major lawsuits alleging Saudi government support and funding for the ‘9/11’ terrorist attack have so far landed in federal courts. As one New York-based chief executive officer of a major commodities hedge fund told OilPrice.com:

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October 14, 2019

Central Bank Issues Stunning Warning: "If The Entire System Collapses, Gold Will Be Needed To Start Over"

It's not just "tinfoil blogs" who (for the past 11 years) have been warning that a monetary reset is inevitable and the only viable fallback option once trust and faith in fiat is lost, is a gold standard (something which even Mark Carney hinted at recently): central banks are joining the doom parade now too.

An article published by the De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), or Dutch Central Bank, has shocked many with its claim that "if the system collapses, the gold stock can serve as a basis to build it up again. Gold bolsters confidence in the stability of the central bank's balance sheet and creates a sense of security."

While gloomy predictions of a monetary reset are hardly new, they have traditionally been relegated to the fringe of mainstream financial thought - after all, as Mario Draghi stated on several occasions in recent years, the mere contemplation of a "doomsday scenario" is enough to create the self-fulfilling prophecy which materializes it. As such, it is stunning to see a mainstream financial institution open up about the superior value of limited supply, non-fiat, sound money assets. It is also hypocritical given the diametrically opposed Keynesian practices regularly engaged in by central banks and official institutions worldwide: after all, just a few months back, the IMF published a paper bashing Germany's adoption of the gold standard in the 1870s as the catalyst for instability in the global monetary system.

Fast forward to today, when the Dutch Central Bank is admitting not only did gold not destabilize the monetary system, but it will be its only savior when everything crashes.

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October 11, 2019

After Unveiling 'NotQE', Fed Eases Liquidity Rules For Foreign Banks (Rescues Deutsche)

Having cracked down on Deutsche Bank in the past, The Fed appears to be playing good-regulator/bad-regulator as The FT reports that Deutsche is expected to benefit most from an imminent change in The Fed's liquidity rules.

Specifically, US banking regulators have dropped an idea to subject local branches of foreign banks to tough new liquidity rules (forcing US branches of foreign banks to hold a minimum level of liquid assets to protect them from a cash crunch).

As The FT further details, people familiar with his thinking say Randal Quarles, the vice-chair for banking supervision at the Fed, accepts the banks’ argument that any liquidity rules on bank branches should only be imposed in conjunction with foreign regulators.

“Without some international agreement, we could have the situation where each country is trying to grab whatever isn’t nailed down if there is another scare.”

And Deutsche Bank benefits most (or rescued from major liquidity needs) since it has by far the largest assets in US branches...

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October 10, 2019

Debt Market Suffering "Quiet Meltdown" As Billions In Loans Are Suddenly Crashing

The exponential growth in the leveraged loan market, in the last several years, created an enormous excess accumulation of sub-investment grade loans that are a ticking time bomb when the next recession strikes.

Late last year, leveraged loan markets froze, for at least a month, as Treasury yields dropped, due to the increasing threat of a global recession. An abundance of fake trade news and central bank easing throughout 2019 saved Wall Street and reopened the leveraged loan market earlier in the year, but it seems that cracks are starting to develop again with recession threats building for 2020

Bloomberg reports that 50 companies that have at least $40 billion of loans have lost about ten percentage points of face value in the last three months. 

An exodus of investors has been seen in the leveraged loan market late-summer into early fall as liquidity dries up. It's mostly due to Treasury yields sinking, and end of cycle fears increasing, as a recession could emerge next year.

Some of the hardest-hit companies in the loan space in the last three months have been Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose $2.7 billion loan due 2025 plunged about 80 cents on the dollar, and Seadrill Operating whose $2.6 billion loan maturing in 2021 only commands 53 cents on the dollar, said Bloomberg.

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October 9, 2019

The Surge In "Surprise" Medical Bills Bankrupting Americans Can Be Blamed On Private Equity

Surging "surprise" medical bills in the U.S. are private equity's fault, a new FT opinion piece claims. 

These "surprise" medical bills continue to be a major talking point in the U.S. and are likely to be a key issue during the upcoming 2020 Presidential race. The term refers to invoices that are generated after a patient is admitted to the hospital and treated, without their knowledge, by someone not in their insurance plan. 

And a recent Stanford study shows that these "surprise" bills continue to become more ubiquitous. They are up from about 33% of visits in 2010 to almost 43% in 2016. For inpatient stays, the number is even more alarming: the jump goes from 26% to 42%, with the average cost per patient rising from $804 to $2,040. It's an issue that only adds to the overwhelming debt bubble we have again created in the U.S. 

The opinion piece notes that these rising costs come not from hospitals, but rather from the "backwaters of the financial markets":

The prices of junk bonds issued by “physician services companies” have been sliding in the past month as their owners weigh the possibility and costs of political intervention. These point to the real source of the problem: private equity’s silent colonisation of parts of the healthcare profession.

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October 8, 2019

"Paper Money Systems Have Always Wound-Up With Collapse And Chaos", Buffett Senior

Warren himself acquired a record-setting 128 million ounces of silver back in the late 1990s… which he later sold at a profit in the early 2000s.

But to listen to him talk about precious metals these days, he’s always negative.

Buffett often quips that if you took the world’s entire supply of gold and melted it together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet (~21 meters) per side and be worth around $9 trillion.

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With that same $9 trillion, you could buy every share of Apple, Disney, Google, Microsoft, JP Morgan, Exxon Mobil, all the farmland in the United States, all the developable land in Manhattan, and still have more than a trillion dollars left over.

This is Buffett’s central argument: gold doesn’t produce anything. So it’s much better to invest in a productive asset like a business, farmland, etc.

Sure, I’d rather own a profitable, productive asset than a pile of metal.

But Buffett is completely wrong to compare gold to productive assets… they’re apples and oranges.

Gold isn’t an ‘investment’. It’s an insurance policy against paper currencies will lose value over time. So a MUCH better comparison for gold is CASH.

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October 7, 2019

The Repo Market Incident May Be The Tip Of The Iceberg

The Federal Reserve has injected $278 billion into the securities repurchase market for the first time. Numerous justifications have been provided to explain why this has happened and, more importantly, why it lasted for various days. The first explanation was quite simplistic: an unexpected tax payment. This made no sense. If there is ample liquidity and investors are happy to take financing positions at negative rates all over the world, the abrupt rise in repo rates would simply vanish in a few hours.

Let us start with definitions. The repo market is where borrowers seeking cash offer lenders collateral in the form of safe securities.  Repo rates are the interest rate paid to borrow cash in exchange for Treasuries for 24 hours.

Sudden bursts in the repo lending market are not unusual. What is unusual is that it takes days to normalize and even more unusual to see that the Federal Reserve needs to inject hundreds of billions in a few days to offset the unstoppable rise in short-term rates.

Because liquidity is ample, thirst for yield is enormous and financial players are financially more solvent than years ago, right? Wrong.

What the Repo Market Crisis shows us is that liquidity is substantially lower than what the Federal Reserve believes, that fear of contagion and rising risk are evident in the weakest link of the financial repression machine (the overnight market) and, more importantly, that liquidity providers probably have significantly more leverage than many expected.

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October 4, 2019

Will The Drive To Devalue The Dollar Lead To A Plaza Accord 2.0?

The Lead-Up to the Plaza Accord

To understand the Plaza Accord, one has to look back to August 15, 1971. On this day Richard Nixon closed the gold window. This step de facto ended the Bretton Woods system, which had been created in 1944 in the New Hampshire town of the same name and was formally terminated in 1973. The era of gold-backed currency was well and truly over; the era of flexible exchange rates had begun. Without a gold anchor, the exchange rate of every currency pair was supposed to be driven exclusively by supply and demand. National central banks — and indirectly governments as well — were at liberty to make their own decisions, free of the tight restrictions imposed by a gold standard, but they had to bear the costs of their decisions in the form of the devaluation or appreciation of their currencies. While a gold-backed currency aims to impose discipline on nations, a system of flexible exchange rates enables national idiosyncrasies to be preserved, with the exchange rate serving as a balancing mechanism.

However, unlike any other currency system, the system of free-floating currencies invites governments and central banks to manipulate exchange rates practically at will. Without reciprocal agreements, which can provide planning security to export-oriented companies in particular, the danger of international chaos is very high, as the system of flexible exchange rates lacks an external anchor.

In order to prevent this chaos, a repetition of the traumatic devaluation spiral of the 1930s, and the resulting disintegration of the global economy, IMF member nations agreed in 1976 at a meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, that “the exchange rate should be economically justified. Countries should avoid manipulating exchange rates in order to avoid the need to regulate the balance of payments or gain an unfair competitive advantage." And in this multilateral spirit — albeit under an US initiative that was strongly tinged by self-interest — an agreement was struck nine years later that has entered the economic history books as the Plaza Accord.

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October 3, 2019

We Finally Understand How Destructive Negative Interest Rates Actually Are

We are in the midst of a strange economic experiment. Vast quantities of negative-yielding debt are currently sloshing around the global economy. While the amount of negative-yielding bonds has dropped recently from a mind-boggling number in excess of $17 trillion, reinvigorated central bank easing across the globe ensures that this reduction is only temporary.

We are slowly starting to understand how destructive negative interest rates actually are. Central banks control short-term interest rates in an economy by setting the rate banks receive on their deposits, that is, on the reserves they hold at the central bank. A new development is the control central banks now exert over long-term rates through their asset purchase, or “QE” programs.

Banks profit from the interest rate differential between “lending long” but “borrowing short”. Essentially, the difference between lending and deposit rates determine a bank’s profitability. However, with today’s very low interest rates, this difference becomes almost non-existent, and with negative rates, inverts completely.

When a central bank pushes rates to negative, banks need to pay interest on the reserves they hold there. But they are not relieved of the obligation they have to pay interest on customer deposits, who are understandably reluctant to pay interest on money they place at a bank. Consequently, the whole earnings logic of banking goes haywire if banks are required to pay interest on loans and receive interest on deposits. As profit margins of banks are squeezed, profitability falls and lending activities suffer.

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October 2, 2019

Japan Hikes National Sales Tax Despite Recession Fears

Japan has increased its national sales tax to 10% from 8% on Tuesday, a significant policy change that could tilt the world's third-largest economy into recession by depressing consumer sentiment, reported Market Watch.

The last two times policymakers increased the sales tax, 2-point rise to 5% in 1997 and another to 8% in 2014, an economic contraction shortly followed.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe twice delayed the tax hike in recent years.

Abe has indicated the tax is now unavoidable given the demographic challenges in the aging country. He said the tax would help pay down the enormous national debt, and position the country towards more financial responsibility in balancing the budget by 2025. But taxing the consumer as the economy is deteriorating could be a recipe for economic disaster in 2020.

Japan's GDP expanded at an annual pace of 1.8% over the summer. The economy is quickly slowing into fall, thanks to the trade war between the US and China. Global trade volumes are plummeting through 2H19, has taken a toll on Japan's exports. The tax will likely sideline the consumer in 2020, force them into a savings pattern that could tilt the economy into a recession next year, similar to the tax increase in 2014.

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