February 28, 2013

Disastrous Financial Transaction Tax Gains Traction

5 Reasons the World Is Catching on to the Financial Transaction Tax ... It has been more than 70 years since John Maynard Keynes wrote about the value of a financial transaction tax in "mitigating the predominance of speculation over enterprise in the United States." A financial transaction tax works by levying a miniscule fee on the estimated $2.9 trillion of daily financial activity through the trading of stocks, bonds, and derivatives in U.S. financial markets, based on our analysis. The tax makes some of the most speculative unproductive trading unprofitable, thus steadying markets and promoting real investment while raising much-needed revenues. Though many countries around the world already have a financial transaction tax in place, the United States does not yet levy such a fee on trading. – American Progress

Dominant Social Theme: Wall Street parasites are simply a blight; taxing them is good.

Free-Market Analysis: Like a bad penny, the "financial transaction tax" keeps turning up and if this article is accurate, the tax is gaining momentum around the world and will eventually penetrate the United States as well.

And that would be too bad. Wall Street is basically a creation of central banking – the Federal Reserve, in this case. Without monetary stimulation, Wall Street would not be what it is today. And thus the entire emphasis of this financial tax is likely incorrect.

Instead of removing the facilities of modern monopoly monetary stimulation, those behind the financial transaction obviously want to capitalize on it. Buy it's a bit like the government and smoking. Government bureaucrats don't REALLY want to get rid of smoking because it is a cash cow. So they only pretend to dislike the practice while expanding taxes and tariffs whenever they can.

The financial transaction tax, perversely, will put governments around the world into a similar posture. Bureaucrats will denounce "wasteful financial speculation" while working behind the scenes to facilitate it. A financial transaction tax will make changing the system in any meaningful way even more difficult – which is no doubt what its supporters really want. Here's more from the article:

While the idea of a modest financial transaction tax—or FTT, as it is often known—has been around for a long me, with budget balances and economic growth strained in the aftermath of the Great Recession policymakers around the world are taking a new look at the tax. Below are five reasons why the world is catching on to the financial transaction tax as a smart policy tool.

A financial transaction tax would bring in much-needed revenue The U.S. government is currently operating at its lowest level of revenues in more than 60 years. A 2010 report from the International Monetary Fund identifies the financial sector of the economy—particularly in the United States—as substantially undertaxed ...

Business and civic leaders support a financial transaction tax The idea of a financial transaction tax isn't new, but the chorus singing its praises is growing every day—from leading economists such as Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman to entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Marc Cuban, to financial leaders the likes of John Bogle, founder of the mutual-fund giant Vanguard Group. The financial transaction tax also has the support of unions for nurses and other health care professionals and service-sector workers ...

A financial transaction tax helps stabilize volatile financial markets An astounding share of transactions on financial markets today consists of high-frequency trades made on the millisecond by computers programmed with sophisticated algorithms. The computers make large-volume trades based on tiny changes in prices—fractions of a penny—and, in so doing, reap tremendous trading profits. While economic theory might suggest that this would lead to slightly more efficient financial markets, the Bank of England's Andrew Haldane has shown that "high-frequency trading appears to have amplified" the markets' erratic undulations ...

A financial transaction tax incentivizes investment for real growth The financial transaction tax by design increases transaction costs of financial trading, thereby encouraging investors to hold financial assets in their investment portfolios for longer periods ...

Many countries already have a financial transaction tax The standard stalling tactic for bringing a financial transaction tax to the United States is saying that we should wait until other countries do it first. But financial transaction taxes already operate in at least 23 countries around the world—including in international financial centers such as the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Japan—and that number is about to grow ...

Okay, let's comment on some of the highlights. First of all, the US government in particular doesn't need more revenue. Various US governmental entities already spend some US$3-4 trillion a year. This particular Leviathan should shrink rather than grow.

We don't see, either, how a financial transaction tax will stabilize volatile markets in a meaningful way. The problem with modern financial markets is that they are stimulated by a central banking boom/bust cycle. The best way to deal with the havoc caused by modern financial markets is to diminish irresponsible monopoly fiat money printing. As we've pointed out above, the financial transaction tax will actually – perversely – encourage and expand the current destructive system by giving governments more "skin in the game."

The article makes the argument as well that since because many other countries have adopted a financial transaction tax, the US should, too. But the US financial markets are the largest in the world and thus what is detrimental elsewhere shall be disastrous in the US. Foolish policies are not ameliorated by expanding them.

The biggest misunderstanding held by proponents of a financial transaction tax is that such a tax will somehow diminish Wall Street while supporting Main Street. In fact, this is a kind of middle-man prejudice. There is nothing wrong with speculation – theoretically, anyway: It has its place.

And as we often point out, because of fiat-money stimulation modern Main Street is just as distorted and unproductive as Wall Street itself. Promoting industrial distortions at the expense of speculative distortions doesn't improve the underlying economic situation a bit.

Bottom line: A financial transaction tax, like most government policies, will actually do the opposite of what it is meant to do. It will further solidify linkages between bureaucracy and modern central banking while providing Leviathan even more sources of revenue for additional forays into destructive regulation and enforcement thereof.

Once major Western countries adopt a financial transaction tax in force, the second part of this exercise will doubtless come into play – which is attempting to divert some of the funding stream to the United Nations.

Conclusion: World government will come another step closer with the increased penetration of this tax. It is being sold to people as a progressive measure that will damp bad business practices. But the solution in this case is more destructive to civil society than the problem.


February 27, 2013

Jack Lew’s Grotesque Citi Employment Deal and the Institutionalization of Corruption

Corruption has now become so routine in Washington that improprieties far worse than Turbo Timmie’s implausible failure to pay taxes on income from his days working as a consultant to the World Bank barely evoke a yawn from the media. Apparently the fourth estate is either so bedazzled by star turns, like Michelle Obama presenting at the Oscars (!!!) or so cowed by the prospect of being cut off from information that it dutifully falls in line.

Let’s look at the presumed incoming Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew. He’s a die hard neoliberal, played a role in financial deregulation as Clinton economics team member, and a backer of NAFTA. But what is surprising is the limited interest in his personal dealings, which have been examined critically by Pam Martens and Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil. Recall that Lew is essentially a career elite technocrat, with his major stint out of government being during the Bush Administration, when he first served as the Executive Vice President for Operations at NYU (where his noteworthy accomplishment was busting the bargaining rights of grad students) and then became the chief operating officer for Citigroup’s alternative investment group.

Weill zeroed in one provision of Lew’s employment agreement at Citigroup, that if Lew left for a “high level position with the United States government or regulatory body” his 2006 and 2007 guaranteed incentive and retention awards. The 2008 rider to the letter provided that if Lew left for the same type of “high level position” his restricted stock would vest immediately. Frankly, I think Weil is more riled up about this provision than he ought to be. The bank was giving particularly generous guarantees for joining. There was no reason to pay out on those guarantee if Lew broke his contract, unless he went to do something that would be of comparable value to the bank. You may not like the logic, but this is pretty cold commercial logic at work. Weil seems to have misread the “guaranteed incentive and retention awards” to mean Lew’s annual bonus on an ongoing basis. It didn’t. It’s a defined term that refers only to special goodies he got in 2006 and 2007.

What I find more disturbing is if you read the totality of Lew’s agreement versus Citi’s performance and Lew’s 2008 pay.

Remember, Lewis came from a job at NYU where he already looks to have been considerably overpaid. He received over $840,000 for the academic year 2002-2003, which had him earning more than most university presidents, including NYU’s president. And on top of that, as Pam Martens ferreted out, he was apparently given a $1.3 million house. I’m not making that up, go read her piece. The mechanism was that NYU lent the $1.3 million to buy the house to Lew and then forgave it over five years. Oh, and they paid him the money to pay the interest too. We will assume that the forgiveness of debt was reported properly to the IRS.

Now the house deal (which is rather bizarre given that NYU owns lots of nice faculty housing) might be what made Lew’s pay deal so out of line relative to his job. But if the forgiveness of debt was not included in the total, it’s even more insane, the equivalent of $1.1 million a year.

But Citi was still happy to pay over the market. If you read the Lew employment agreement, he got a $300,000 salary and a $1 million a year guaranteed incentive and retention award for each of 2006 and 2007. Oh, and he ALSO got a $700,000 signing bonus in restricted stock (or cash if the relevant committee did not approve the award!) that would vest 25% a year over the next four years. Oh, and the last goodies: he got his offer letter on June 26, 2006, and he joined in July. But his $1 million guaranteed incentive and retention award was NOT pro-rated for that year. And he got to take a $400,000 advance against it when he joined.

Now a general rule in headhunter land is you need to pay someone a 30% premium over their current job to get them to leave. But that is when they are recruiting someone with a good resume who is well situated away from a pretty secure position. You are paying them for assuming the risk of failure in a new job. There’s no evidence that Lew was aggressively courted to leave his job at NYU because a university administrator would be the perfect guy to play an executive role in a hedge fund business. The flip side, of course, is if a guy like Lew landed a plum government or regulatory job after Citi, pretty much any pay level would be a screaming bargain. And between Lew’s own history and then Citigroup vice chairman Bob Rubin’s deep network in the Democratic party, it would seem that the only risk was how long it took to get the Dems back in power.

But let’s look at what happened. Remember how Citi’s stock has cratered?

It is really hard to discern the scales, but Lew’s $700,000 award would have been made when Citi was trading (in post reverse split term) in the $480 to $500 a share range. When he joined the Obama administration as deputy secretary of state, the stock was in the $15 to $18 range. So it was pretty much worthless. Any restricted stock component of his 2007 bonus would also have lost most of its value.
Now, Lew’s salary was increased to $350,000 in 2008. Given that the bank was hemorrhaging losses and his unit was part of the problem, there’s no justification for a salary rise (remember, the wheels were staring to come off in 2007, as Citi’s stock price attests). Let us look at how Goldman, which was one of the stronger major players,* handled executive and staff pay in 2008. From Bloomberg:
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. eliminated 2,500 jobs in the fourth quarter and slashed average pay per worker 45 percent to $363,654 as the firm posted the first quarterly loss since going public almost a decade ago….

Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein and six deputies agreed to forgo their year-end bonuses after the firm converted to a bank-holding company and accepted $10 billion from the government to help it survive a financial crisis that eliminated three smaller rivals. The firm’s bonus pool, estimated at 60 percent of total compensation, dropped to $6.56 billion or an average $218,193 per employee this year.
Yet Lew’s 2008 bonus of $944,000 was almost identical to his 2007 guarantee (note that we don’t know if he got any other goodies in cash, but again, given that the earnings of the bank fell 83% from prior year levels, that would be awfully unseemly). And let us not forget that this came out of taxpayer largess, not earnings.

Weill adds that Lew stood to receive another $250,001 to $500,000 in the cashout of restricted stock. Given the stock chart above, that has to have been almost entirely a 2008 award, any prior year awards would be worth chicken feed. And the bank knew as of November 15 (if not sooner) that Lew was going to the Administration, hence the award would be paid out in cash, out of taxpayer monies. In other words, that award should not be mistaken as a prior year grant, it’s almost all for 2008, and on top of that, probably understood at the time it was awarded to be effectively a cash award.

This isn’t hard to understand. When Lloyd Blankfein, who was excoriated by former Goldman co-chairman John Whitehead for Goldman’s role in leading “outrageous”n pay increases over Wall Street, is requiring significantly lower pay levels of his executives and troops for their 2008 pay. By contrast, a mere (albeit senior) administrator at a bank on government life support, got an effective increase. Yet as reported in the Washington Times, Lew had the temerity to tell Congress:
My position at Citi was a management position,” Mr. Lew replied. “I was not an investment adviser. My compensation was in line with other management executives at the firm and in similarly complex operations.”
It may be true that the entire executive team was feeding at the trough as much as Lew. However, a look at the proxy shows that none of the top five executives at Citi took cash bonuses for 2008. So if top executives were taking major pay cuts, how could Lew, an administrator in a money-losing unit, claim to be treated just the same as everyone else?

But this simply means that Lew is a member of a protected class. The rules that apply to little people, including giving accurate, as opposed to strained-at-best, answers to Congressmen, just don’t apply to him. The idea that his pay package was basically a huge option payment by Citi on the pretty good odds that he’d land another big deal official post, doesn’t seem to occur to him. And why is that worth so much to Citi? Well, as we know, corruption in the US does not (often) take the form of briefcases full of cash being left in an office. It’s an ugly combination of intellectual capture, of mutual backscratching, and “don’t rock the boat,” of accepting norms of discourse, behavior, and action, that circumscribe the range of possible actions.
Lew no doubt believes he was paid according to merit, despite the blindingly obviously evidence to the contrary. And that sense of entitlement is what will enable him to kill old people without a second though. Because that is what winning cuts to Social Security and Medicare will do, given that Obama punted on his chance to tackle the health care cost problem.

I had predicted Lew would have us wanting Geithner back. At least Geithner would get twitchy when grilled. That means, somewhere inside, he actually knows right from wrong. Lew is such a bland technocrat that I wonder whether he has any compunctions.

But the lack of consternation about Lew’s financial record, and the way some respected members of what passes for the left (Robert Reich and Jamie Galbraith) have defended Lew, in part also shows how much things have changed in a mere four years. Obama’s lying has become so predictable that it’s hard to stir up any outrage over it.** And since fish rot from the head, one of Obama’s singular accomplishments is in defining deviancy down throughout the Beltway. For instance, Obama took the unheard-of step of collecting “unlimited corporate cash” in the words of Roll Call, with virtually nil in the way of disclosure, taking even stalwart supporters like the Grey Lady aback.

So Lew is indeed perfect for his new role, just not in the way ordinary Americans expect him to be.

* I don’t buy Jamie Dimon’s claims re JP Morgan’s financial condition. Yes, the traditional bank was in vastly better shape than Citi or Bank of America. But JP Morgan runs a monster derivatives clearing operation which dwarfs the risk in the traditional bank. If AIG or Morgan Stanley had failed after Lehman, the blowback would most assuredly have taken JP Morgan down as well.

** Yes I know politicians lie, but Obama has completely redefined the boundaries of acceptable political fudging. It’s now all dishonesty, all the time.


February 26, 2013

The Big Dogs On Wall Street Are Starting To Get Very Nervous

Why are some of the biggest names in the corporate world unloading stock like there is no tomorrow, and why are some of the most prominent investors on Wall Street loudly warning about the possibility of a market crash? Should we be alarmed that the big dogs on Wall Street are starting to get very nervous? In a previous article, I got very excited about a report that indicated that corporate insiders were selling nine times more of their own shares than they were buying. Well, according to a brand new Bloomberg article, insider sales of stock have outnumbered insider purchases of stock by a ratio of twelve to one over the past three months. That is highly unusual. And right now some of the most respected investors in the financial world are ringing the alarm bells. Dennis Gartman says that it is time to "rush to the sidelines", Seth Klarman is warning about "the un-abating risks of collapse", and Doug Kass is proclaiming that "we're headed for a sharp fall". So does all of this mean that a market crash is definitely on the way? No, but when you combine all of this with the weak economic data constantly coming out of the U.S. and Europe, it certainly does not paint a pretty picture.

According to Bloomberg, it has been two years since we have seen insider sales of stock at this level. And when insider sales of stock are this high, that usually means that the market is about to decline...
Corporate executives are taking advantage of near-record U.S. stock prices by selling shares in their companies at the fastest pace in two years.

There were about 12 stock-sale announcements over the past three months for every purchase by insiders at Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) companies, the highest ratio since January 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Pavilion Global Markets. Whenever the ratio exceeded 11 in the past, the benchmark index declined 5.9 percent on average in the next six months, according to Pavilion, a Montreal-based trading firm.
But it isn't just the number of stock sales that is alarming. Some of these insider transactions are absolutely huge. Just check out these numbers...
Among the biggest transactions last week were a $65.2 million sale by Google Inc.’s 39-year-old Chief Executive Officer Larry Page, a $40.1 million disposal by News Corp.’s 81- year-old Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch and a $34.2 million sale from American Express Co. chief Kenneth Chenault, who is 61. Nolan Archibald, the 69-year-old chairman of Stanley Black & Decker Inc. who plans to leave his post next month, unloaded $29.7 million in shares last week and Amphenol Corp. Chairman Martin Hans Loeffler, 68, sold $27.5 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, 57, announced plans to sell as many as 3.2 million shares in the operator of the world’s most-popular search engine. The planned share sales, worth about $2.5 billion, represent about 42 percent of Schmidt’s holdings.
So why are all of these very prominent executives cashing out all of a sudden?
That is a very good question.

Meanwhile, some of the most respected names on Wall Street are warning that it is time to get out of the market.

For example, investor Dennis Gartman recently wrote that the game is "changing" and that it is time to "rush to the sidelines"...
"When tectonic plates in the earth’s crust shift earthquakes happen and when the tectonic plants shift beneath our feet in the capital markets margin calls take place. The tectonic plates have shifted and attention... very careful and very substantive attention... must be paid.

"Simply put, the game has changed and where we were playing a 'game' fueled by the monetary authorities and fueled by the urge on the part of participants to see and believe in rising 'animal spirits' as Lord Keynes referred to them we played bullishly of equities and of the EUR and of 'risk assets'. Now, with the game changing, our tools have to change and so too our perspective.

"Where we were buyers of equities previously we must disdain them henceforth. Where we were sellers of Yen and US dollars we must buy them now. Where we had been long of gold in Yen terms, we must shift that and turn bullish of gold in EUR terms. Where we might have been 'technically' bullish of the EUR we must now be technically and fundamentally bearish of it. The game board has been flipped over; the game has changed... change with it or perish. We cannot be more blunt than that."
That is a very ominous warning, but he is far from alone. Just the other day, I wrote about how legendary investor Seth Klarman is warning that the collapse of the financial markets could happen at literally any time...
"Investing today may well be harder than it has been at any time in our three decades of existence," writes Seth Klarman in his year-end letter. The Fed's "relentless interventions and manipulations" have left few purchase targets for Baupost, he laments. "(The) underpinnings of our economy and financial system are so precarious that the un-abating risks of collapse dwarf all other factors."
Other big hitters on Wall Street are ringing the alarm bells as well. For example, Seabreeze Partners portfolio manager Doug Kass recently told CNBC that what he is seeing right now reminds him of the period just before the crash of 1987...
"I'm getting the 'summer of 1987 feeling' in the U.S. equity market," Kass told CNBC, "which means we're headed for a sharp fall."
And of course the "perma-bears" continue to warn that the months ahead are going to be very difficult. For instance, "Dr. Doom" Marc Faber recently said that he "loves the high odds of a ‘big-time’ market crash".

Another "perma-bear", Nomura's Bob Janjuah, is convinced that the stock market will experience one more huge spike before collapsing by up to 50%...
I continue to believe that the S&P500 can trade up towards the 1575/1550 area, where we have, so far, a grand double top. I would not be surprised to see the S&P trade marginally through the 2007 all-time nominal high (the real high was of course seen over a decade ago – so much for equities as a long-term vehicle for wealth creation!). A weekly close at a new all-time high would I think lead to the final parabolic spike up which creates the kind of positioning extreme and leverage extreme needed to create the conditions for a 25% to 50% collapse in equities over the rest of 2013 and 2014, driven by real economy reality hitting home, and by policymaker failure/loss of faith in "their system".
So are they right?

We will see.

At the same time that many of the big dogs are pulling their money out of the market, many smaller investors are rushing to put their money back in to the market. The mainstream media continues to assure them that everything is wonderful and that this rally can last forever.

But it is important to keep in mind that the last time that Wall Street was this "euphoric" was right before the market crash in 2008.

So what should we be watching for?

As I have mentioned before, it is very important to watch the financial markets in Europe right now.

If they crash, the financial markets in the U.S. will probably crash too.

And the financial markets in Europe definitely have had a rough week. Just check out what happened on Thursday. The following is from a report by CNBC's Bob Pisani...
Italy, Germany, France, Spain, U.K., Greece, and Portugal all on track to log worst day since Feb. 4. European PMI numbers were disappointing, with all major countries except Germany reporting numbers below 50, indicating contraction.

What does this mean? It means Europe remains mired in recession: "The euro zone is on course to contract for a fourth consecutive quarter," Markit, who provides the PMI data, said. A new insight is that France is now joining the weakness shown in periphery countries.

You're giving me agita: Italy was the worst market, down 2.5 percent. The CEO of banking company, Intesa Sanpaolo, said Italy's recession has been so bad it could cause a fifth of Italian companies to fail, noting that topline for those bottom fifth have been shrinking 35 to 45 percent. Italian elections are this weekend.

It wasn't any better in Asia. The Shanghai Index had its worst day in over a year, closing down nearly three percent.
And the economic numbers coming out of the U.S. also continue to be quite depressing.
On Thursday, the Department of Labor announced that there were 362,000 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the week ending February 16th. That was a sharp rise from a week earlier.

But I am not really concerned about that number yet.

When it rises above 400,000 and it stays there, then it will be time to officially become alarmed.
So what is the bottom line?

There are trouble signs on the horizon for the financial markets. Nobody should panic right now, but things certainly do not look very promising for the remainder of the year.


February 25, 2013

US judge freezes Goldman Sachs account over 'suspicious' Heinz trading

A US judge froze a Goldman Sachs account that regulators say was used to make suspicious trades in H J Heinz, after unknown traders failed to appear in court to defend their claims to the assets.
When the unidentified traders didn't show up at a hearing on Friday in Manhattan, a US district judge, Jed Rakoff, said he would grant the US Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) request to freeze the Goldman Sachs account in Zurich until the case was resolved.

"They can hide, but their assets can't run," Mr Rakoff announced, saying he had granted the SEC's request and signed the freeze order.

The agency said in its complaint that the trades came a day before Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital announced the US$23 billion (Dh84.4bn) takeover of Pittsburgh-based Heinz. The suspicious trading involved call-option contracts, the SEC said.

Goldman Sachs told the regulator it doesn't have "direct access" to information about the beneficial owner behind transactions in the account. The New York-based bank told the agency the account holder is a Zurich private-wealth client, the SEC said. Goldman has said it is co-operating with authorities.

The SEC on February 15 sued "unknown" traders who used an "omnibus account" and invested almost $90,000 in Heinz option positions the day before the deal was announced. As a result, their position increased to more than $1.8 million, a rise of almost 2,000 per cent in one day.

The SEC, which obtained a preliminary freeze on the funds from Mr Rakoff on February 15, said that the traders had material nonpublic information about the impending deal when they bought 2,533 call options, which had a strike price of $65 on February 13. Shares closed that day at $60.48.

Heinz shares jumped 20 per cent to $72.50 on February 14, following the announcement that Berkshire Hathaway and Jorge Paulo Lemann's 3G Capital had agreed to buy Heinz. As a result of the takeover announcement, the price of the June call options jumped to a close of $7.33 on February 14 from 40 cents the day before, an increase of more than 1,700 per cent.

Mr Rakoff, who on February 15 put a temporary freeze on the assets in the Goldman Sachs account, directed anyone connected to the trades to appear before him at 2pm local time on Friday to explain why the assets should not be permanently restrained.

The FBI said last week that it was also investigating the matter and was working with the SEC.

The SEC wants the assets frozen until the case is resolved because there is a "serious risk that the substantial proceeds from the defendants' trading will leave the jurisdiction of the US courts in the next few days and may never be recovered," according to a court filing.


February 22, 2013

Nirvana, Creditopia, And Why Central Banks Are The Devil

Central banks are the devil. They are like drug dealers except they administer regular doses of supposedly legally prescribed barbiturates to their addicts. The 'easy money' or 'credit' they create is an opiate and like all addictions there is a payback for the addicts, one exacted only in loss of health, misery and death.

The economic system is an addict, but that system is comprised of banks, corporations, non-profit organisations, small businesses all of which are communities. And what comprises communities, us, human beings - individuals. We are the addicts.

Popular economic academia understates human action in the economic equation of money. It is human preferences that determine our desire for goods and services and so in turn really determines the utility of money. Sadly the desire of the State to control money and administer it like a drug has left our economies unproductive and incapable of standing on their own two feet.

Our reliance on 'easy money' as facilitated by credit has become terminal. Like drug users we continue to attempt to find a heightened state of Nirvana. We continue to hark for the utopian days prior to the eruption of the post 2008 crisis, even though our well-being was fallacious and based on an illusion of wealth paid for by credit - a creditopia. The abuse of credit is what defined the Great Financial crisis and one that still defines our economic system and one which will define a much worse crisis to come.

Central bankers have begun a concerted effort to fight the global debt problem which has been stifling growth as tax revenues merely serve to finance debt servicing rather than addressing the repayment of principal outstanding. Omnipotent governors, Bernanke, Carney, Draghi, Svensson and Iwata or Kuroda (either are likely to replace Shirakawa) are to take a far more aggressive and activist role in pursuing a new framework for growth and inflation by seeking an alternative way to conduct monetary policy. It's called Nominal GDP Level targeting and it is in our opinion as significant a moment as Volcker's appointment to the Federal Reserve governorship in 1978.

Many will recall Volcker's moment was to engineer a swift monetary contraction and deceleration of the money velocity to try and reign in excessively high inflation and stabilise growth. It worked. Today we are witnessing an ‘Inverse Volcker’ moment, whereby the opposite is likely true.

The question remains are they all still ‘inflation nutters' as Mervyn King, the BoE Governor glibly referred to those central bankers who focussed solely on inflation targets to the potential detriment of stable growth, employment and exchange rates.

Are central bankers merely expanding the boundaries of monetary largesse by focusing on a broader mandate and merely evolving the singular variable approach of inflation targeting or have they finally found a solution to eradicating boom bust business cycles? This is a question we need to answer as we are currently witnessing a Central Bank Revolution which could portend severe consequences for prices in our economies - and all the attendant misery that comes with very high inflation.

Nominal GDP Level targeting advocates believe they have a plausible case for a change of mandate by central banks and one which is being gradually adopted, but we believe that like central banks they have misdiagnosed the cause of the crisis by failing to examine the impact of credit creation in our global economy.

Money matters less credit matters more.

Global economies are still credit driven and Keynesian counterfeiting has merely arrested the collapse. The maintenance of heightened credit levels by financing of deficits with 'easy' money is beginning to see prices and output rise in the short term. In the long run only higher prices will remain whilst growth stagnates. A classic monetarist conclusion.

Hinde Capital has provided a long and consistent discourse on the relationship between credit and growth. Policymakers by now may well grasp that sustainable growth is not possible as nations still have an overreliance on credit-based sectors, namely the F.I.R.E. sectors, (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate). This is an understatement as all sectors are now directly or indirectly underpinned by this false mammon called credit.

Once upon a time merely altering the levels of money in the economic system could help an economy expand and contract without creating excessive levels of inflation both in asset, goods and service prices. However as this fiat currency regime has grown older so has the ability of central bank policy to contain large swings in the business cycle.


It is our contention that central banks feel they need to maintain the balance of credit in the system as it currently stands by adjusting the money supply and monetary velocity (MV) but by doing so they merely circumvent the necessary adjustment in the economic system that comes about by market failure. If they don't allow this failure then any attempt to influence MV will only lead to higher prices (P) at the expense of output (T) in the famous monetary equation MV=PT.

Central Bank's Checklist Manifesto

At Hinde Capital we have attempted to codify both our objective and subjective observations of asset classes over the years and have naturally migrated to a checklist routine to eliminate any behavioural biases that lead to a misdiagnosis of events before an investment decision.


February 21, 2013

Goldman Sachs Back To Hurting Clients As Firm Is Targeted In Insider Trading Probe

Goldman Sachs is apparently back to it’s old tricks despite the $550 million settlement with the SEC over hurting clients in the mortgage securities market. Acting on what may have been inside information (more on that later) the firm decided it wanted to heavily invest in Heinz (HNZ), which later would announce it was in talks to be bought out by Warren Buffet. So Goldman Sachs started buying up shares ahead of the merger.

And here is where Goldman’s clients get involved.
An investment bank having a Sell rating on a stock? Usually an unheard of thing: why alienate the management, why prevent future banking business – it’s not like banks are ethical creatures – and sure enough in this particular case, the bank in question had sell recos on just 14% of the stocks in its coverage universe. Which begs the question: what does a Sell rating really accomplish? Well, in this case, and in all such cases, it merely provides the firm’s prop, pardon flow, traders the opportunity to accumulate the shares its “clients” are advised by the same bank’s sellside group to Sell, preferably to the bank in question…

Bottom line: 20% gain for Goldman’s prop traders who bought all the HNZ stock they indirectly “advised” their client counterparts to sell to them.
Ouch. Why would a client ever trust a Goldman advisor again? They just pushed you out of a stock they believed (possibly due to inside information) was about to take off – so they could buy it.
And the hits keep coming on Goldman Sachs’ activity in the Heinz Merger as Reuters revealed the firm is being targeted in an insider trading investigation by the SEC.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc is cooperating with a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe into insider options trading in H.J. Heinz Co before the food company announced it was being acquired, Goldman said on Friday.

Earlier in the day, the SEC filed suit against unknown traders using an account in Switzerland to buy options in Heinz before the company was purchased. The SEC suit does not explicitly name Goldman Sachs but refers to the account in Switzerland as the “GS Account.”
We already knew Goldman was lying about not prop trading but now the firm is back to screwing its clients and insider trading. But then again, can you blame them when the Department of Justice refuses to prosecute and the firm only has to pay a relatively small fine for its criminal behavior? Ripping off clients, insider trading, disrupting markets – it’s just business and now so is breaking the law.


February 20, 2013

The Pound Gets Pounded

As the global currency war intensifies, the majority of attention has been paid to the 17% fall of the Japanese yen against the US dollar over the past few months. The implosion has given cover to the sad performance of another once mighty currency: the British pound sterling. But in many ways the travails of the pound is far more instructive to those pondering the fate of the US currency.

Japan has a unique economic and demographic profile, which makes it a poor stalking horse. Newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Bank of Japan have clearly and forcefully committed Japan to a policy of inflation at any cost. Even in a world of serial money printers their plans stand out as exceptional. Britain, on the other hand, is charting a more conventional course to the same destination.

The UK government, under conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, has succeeded in bringing marginal discipline to their budgetary imbalances. From 2009 to 2012, British government expenditures rose a total of just 1.6%, which was far below the official pace of inflation. (In contrast, US federal spending grew by 7.9% over that time period). Since 2009 the British have kept their debt-to-GDP ratio lower than America's and have cut into that metric at a faster rate. But while the British are conservative when compared to their American cousins, they are hardly austere when compared to Germany (which continues to have a nearly balanced budget and extremely low debt to GDP). Paul Krugman blames Britain's lackluster economic performance on their misguided experiment with austerity.

The monetary side of the equation also puts the UK within the spectrum of its peers. Ever since the Great Recession began in 2008 the Bank of England, led by outgoing Governor Mervyn King, has been far more stimulative than the European Central Bankers in Frankfort (but not quite as much as the Federal Reserve or the Bank of Japan). In contrast to the permanent and ongoing bond-buying quantitative easing programs underway in the US and Japan, the Bank of England has engaged in such measures only selectively.

Given the relatively moderate approach pursued by the British, the poor performance of their currency may be hard to fathom. The deciding factor may be that the Pound Sterling is not nearly as vital to investors, or as integrated into the global economy, as the US dollar or the euro. The greenback, being the world's reserve currency, has always benefited from demand that is independent of its economic fundamentals. The euro benefits from the size of the euro zone and the legacy of German banking discipline. The pound enjoys no such privileges and as a result foreign central banks do not feel as pressured to prop it up. As a result, over the past few years the pound has been... pounded. Since July 2010, the currency is down 26.7% against the US dollar, and in recent months it has started falling faster than all other developed currencies except for the Abe-pummeled yen. Since October 1, 2012 the pound has fallen by 4% against the dollar and 8% against the euro.

The pound's health is made more suspect by the extreme challenges faced by the Bank of England as it tries to stimulate the most admittedly inflation prone economy among the major Western nations. Unlike the Federal Reserve, which is tasked by statute to combat both inflation and unemployment, the BofE has only a single mandate: to keep inflation contained. On that score it has been failing habitually. Inflation in the UK has been north of its 2% target for the past five years (the current official rate is 2.7%). In its most recent inflation projections, Mr. King admitted that it will stay that way for years to come, and that it may exceed 3% this year and next. With its currency weakening and inflation accelerating, the mandate of the BofE would clearly indicate that the time has come for monetary tightening.

However, like all central bankers, Mr. King, and his successor, the Canadian Mark Carney, will not be bound by such triflings as statutory mandates and past promises. In his press conference last week, Mr. King spoke of "looking past" current inflation figures to a time when he expects inflation will moderate. When the choice is between inflation and the political pain of economic contraction, bankers (at least those who don't speak German) will choose inflation every time.

While the American media has poked fun at the Bank of England's backtracking, they somehow do not understand that the Federal Reserve would be doing the same if not for the advantages given to us by the dollar's reserve status. Our ability to monetize the vast majority of the annual government deficit while exporting our inflation through half trillion dollar trade deficits and the overseas sale of hundreds of billions of Treasury bonds annually means that we do not yet face the pressures bearing down on the Bank of England.

For now at least Cameron is sticking to his guns and making the politically difficult case to voters that today's hard choices will yield benefits down the road. This puts all the pressure on the Bank of England to satisfy the calls for stimulus. The Federal Reserve is fortunate in that the Obama Administration shares none of Cameron's fiscal determination.

But already the Fed has done plenty of backing off from its prior promises. Just a few months ago Ben Bernanke announced specific inflation and unemployment triggers that would apparently put monetary policy on automatic pilot. But just last week, Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen announced that those goalposts (6.5% unemployment and 2.5% inflation) should not be considered "triggers" but as thresholds past which the Fed "may consider" tightening. When US prices start to rise in earnest, look for the denials and rationalizations to come in torrents. The Fed will never acknowledge high inflation no matter what the data, nor will it ever take any steps to combat it. The simple reason is that it will be unable to do so without bringing on the economic contraction that is so terrifying to the British.

However, as British inflation accelerates, the pressure on the Bank of England to change course will intensify. As monetary stimulus continues to take its toll on the pound, price pressures will mount, even as the economy continues to stagnate. In other words, it is charting a course to stagflation. Perversely, this will put even more pressure on the BofE to ease. However, more cheap money will not stimulate the economy but merely cripple it further by fueling the inflationary fire.

At some point the British will have to admit that stimulus doesn't work. To break the inflationary spiral and rescue the ailing pound, the BofE will be forced to aggressively raise rates, at which point the British government will have no choice but to slash spending more deeply than would have been the case had they taken their medicine sooner. However, if the BofE refuses to tighten even in the face of much higher official inflation, the pound may deteriorate further and the UK might be left with the embarrassing choice of adopting the euro.

As far as the United States is concerned, the UK is the canary in the coal mine. What they are going through now, and what they may be about to go through, we will surely experience in the years ahead. The only difference is that the leeway afforded to us by our special status simply gives us more rope to hang ourselves. When the noose finally tightens, the fall will be that much more painful.
Peter and Euro Pacific Metals are the subject of a Daily Bell Special Report: "To Survive the Coming Financial Hurricane, Physical Holdings of Gold and Silver Are a Must. This Solution Provider Can Help You Now – Without Leverage or High Pressure Tactics."

February 19, 2013

Retail Apocalypse: Why Are Major Retail Chains All Over America Collapsing?

If the economy is improving, then why are many of the largest retail chains in America closing hundreds of stores? When I was growing up, Sears, J.C. Penney, Best Buy and RadioShack were all considered to be unstoppable retail powerhouses. But now it is being projected that all of them will close hundreds of stores before the end of 2013. Even Wal-Mart is running into problems. A recent internal Wal-Mart memo that was leaked to Bloomberg described February sales as a "total disaster". So why is this happening? Why are major retail chains all over America collapsing? Is the "retail apocalypse" upon us? Well, the truth is that this is just another sign that the U.S. economy is falling apart right in front of our eyes. Incomes are declining, taxes are going up, government dependence is at an all-time high, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the percentage of the U.S. labor force that is employed has been steadily falling since 2006. The top 10% of all income earners in the U.S. are still doing very well, but most U.S. consumers are either flat broke or are drowning in debt. The large disposable incomes that the big retail chains have depended upon in the past simply are not there anymore. So retail chains all over the United States are now closing up unprofitable stores. This is especially true in low income areas.

When you step back and take a look at the bigger picture, the rapid decline of some of our largest retail chains really is stunning.

It is happening already in some areas, but soon half empty malls and boarded up storefronts will litter the landscapes of cities all over America.

Just check out some of these store closing numbers for 2013. These numbers are from a recent Yahoo Finance article...

Best Buy
Forecast store closings: 200 to 250
Sears Holding Corp.
Forecast store closings: Kmart 175 to 225, Sears 100 to 125
J.C. Penney
Forecast store closings: 300 to 350
Office Depot
Forecast store closings: 125 to 150
Barnes & Noble
Forecast store closings: 190 to 240, per company comments
Forecast store closings: 500 to 600
Forecast store closings: 150 to 175
Forecast store closings: 450 to 550
The RadioShack in a nearby town just closed up where I live. This is all happening so fast that it is hard to believe.

But the truth is that those store closings are not the entire story. When you dig deeper you find a lot more retailers that are in trouble.

For example, Blockbuster recently announced that this year they will be closing about 300 stores and eliminating about 3,000 jobs.

Toy manufacturer Hasbro recently announced that they will be reducing the size of their workforce by about 10 percent.

Even Wal-Mart is going through a tough stretch right now. According to documents that were leaked to Bloomberg, Wal-Mart is having an absolutely disastrous February...
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had the worst sales start to a month in seven years as payroll-tax increases hit shoppers already battling a slow economy, according to internal e-mails obtained by Bloomberg News.

“In case you haven’t seen a sales report these days, February MTD sales are a total disaster,” Jerry Murray, Wal- Mart’s vice president of finance and logistics, said in a Feb. 12 e-mail to other executives, referring to month-to-date sales. “The worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”
So what in the world is going on here?

The mainstream media continues to proclaim that we are experiencing a robust "economic recovery", but at the same time there are a whole host of indications that things are continually getting worse.

Even global cell phone sales actually declined slightly in 2012. That was the first time that has happened since the last recession.

Perhaps it is time that we faced the truth. The middle class is shrinking, incomes are declining and there are not nearly as many jobs as there used to be.

Mort Zuckerman pointed this out in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal...
The U.S. labor market, which peaked in November 2007 when there were 139,143,000 jobs, now encompasses only 132,705,000 workers, a drop of 6.4 million jobs from the peak. The only work that has increased is part-time, and that is because it allows employers to reduce costs through a diminished benefit package or none at all.
So how can the mainstream media be talking about how "good" things are if we still have 6.4 million fewer jobs than we had back in November 2007?

And sadly, things may soon be getting a lot worse. If Congress does not do anything about the "sequester", millions of federal workers may shortly be facing some very painful furloughs according to CNN...
Federal workers could start facing furloughs as early as April, according to federal agencies trying to prepare for the worst.

Unless Congress steps in, some $85 billion in massive spending reductions will hit the federal government, doling out furloughs to much of the nation's 2.1 million federal workforce, experts say.
If you still live in an area of the country where the stores and the restaurants are booming, you should be very thankful because that is not the reality for most of the country.

I often write about the stunning economic decline of major cities such as Detroit, but there are huge sections of rural America that are in even worse shape than Detroit in many ways.

For example, many Indian reservations all over America have been shamefully neglected by the federal government and have become hotbeds for crime, drugs and poverty.

Business Insider recently profiled the Wind River Indian reservation in western Wyoming. The following is a brief excerpt from that outstanding article...
The Wind River Indian Reservation is not an easy place to get to, but I had to see it for myself.

Thirty-five-hundred square miles of prairie and mountains in western Wyoming, the reservation is home to bitter ancestral enemies: the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

Even among reservations, it's renowned for brutal crime, widespread drug use, and legal dumping of toxic waste.
You can see some amazing photos of the Wind River Indian reservation right here.

It is hard to believe that there are places like that in America, but the truth is that conditions like that are spreading to more U.S. communities with each passing day.

We are a nation that is in an advanced state of decline. But as long as the financial markets are okay, our leaders don't seem too concerned about the suffering that everyone else is going through.
In fact, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan essentially admitted as much during a recent interview with CNBC. The following is how a Zero Hedge article summarized that interview...
Starting at around 1:50, Greenspan states the odds of sequester occurring are very high - in fact, the playdough-faced ex-Chair-head notes, "I find it very difficult to find a scenario in which [the sequester] doesn't happen" But when asked how this will affect the economy, Awkward Alan is unusually clearly spoken - "the issue is how does it affect the stock market."

While not so many of our leaders have taken the path to direct truthiness, Greenspan somewhat shocks a Botox'd and babbling Bartiromo when he admits "the stock market is the key player in the game of economic growth."

Bartiromo shifts uncomfortably in her seat, strokes her imaginary beard and stares blankly as Greenspan explains that while the sequester will have a real effect on the real economy, "if the stock market can hold up through this, then the effect will be rather minor."
Do you see?

As long as the stock market is moving higher they think that everything is just fine and dandy.
And the Obama administration?

They continue to pursue the same policies that got us into this mess.

Their idea of "economic reform" is to threaten to sue businesses that do not hire ex-convicts.
And of course now that Obama has been re-elected he is putting a tremendous amount of effort into "stimulating the economy".

For example, he spent this weekend golfing in Florida, and the Obamas recently spent about 20 million taxpayer dollars vacationing in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is getting worse with each passing day.

If you doubt that economic conditions are getting worse, please read this article: "Show This To Anyone That Believes That 'Things Are Getting Better' In America".

When you look at the cold, hard numbers, it is undeniable what is happening to America.

And our leaders are not doing anything to fix our problems. In fact, most of the time they are just making things worse.

So buckle up and get prepared. We are in for very bumpy ride, and this is only just the beginning.


February 18, 2013

Currency Wars Are Trade Wars

First of all, what people think they know about past currency wars isn’t actually true. Everyone uses some combination phrase like “protectionism and competitive devaluation” to describe the supposed vicious circle of the 1930s, but as Barry Eichengreen has pointed out many times, these really don’t go together. If country A and country B engage in a tit-for-tat of tariffs, the end result is restricted trade; if they each try to push their currency down, the end result is at worst to leave everyone back where they started.
And in reality the stuff that’s now being called “currency wars” is almost surely a net plus for the world economy. In the 1930s this was because countries threw off their golden fetters — they left the gold standard and this freed them to pursue expansionary monetary policies. Today that’s not the issue; but what Japan, the US, and the UK are doing is in fact trying to pursue expansionary monetary policy, with currency depreciation as a byproduct.
There is a serious intellectual error here, typical of much of the recent discussion of this issue. A currency war is by definition a low-level form of a trade war because currencies are internationally traded commodities. The intent (and there is much circumstantial evidence to suggest that Japan at least is acting with mercantilist intent, but that is another story for another day) is not relevant — currency depreciation is currency depreciation and still has the same effects on creditors and trade partners, whatever the claimed intent.
Krugman cites Barry Eichengreen as evidence that competitive devaluation does not necessarily mean a trade war, but Eichengreen does not address the issue of a trade war directly, much less denying the possibility of one.  Indeed, while broadly supportive of competitive devaluation Eichengreen notes that the process was “disorderly and disruptive”.
And the risks of disorder and disruption are still very real today.
While the positive effects a currency war produced in the 1930s are unlikely to reappear, there is a chance of large negative effects such as a simultaneous trade war or the breakdown of the international monetary system, so let’s hope a currency war can be avoided.
The mechanism here is very simple. Some countries — those with a lower domestic rate of inflation, like Japan — have a natural advantage in a currency war against countries with a higher domestic rate of inflation like Brazil and China. If one side runs out of leverage to debase their currency because of heightened domestic inflation, their next recourse is to resort to direction trade measures like quotas and tariffs.
China and Russia and Brazil have all recently expressed deep unease at America’s can-kicking and money-printing mentality. This is partly because American money printing has exported inflation to the world, as a result of the dollar’s role as the global reserve currency, and partly because these states already own a lot of American debt, and do not want to be paid off in hugely-debased money.
Since I made that statement, there has been a great lot of debasement without any great spiral of damaging trade measures. But with the world locked into ever greater monetary and trade interdependency, and with fiery trade rhetoric continuing to spew forth from the BRIC nations, who by-and-large seem to continue to believe that American money-printing is damaging their interests   — who in the past two years have put together a new global reserve currency framework — it would be deeply complacent to believe that the risks of a severe trade war have gone away.
(Unfortunately, Krugman and Eichengreen both seem to discount the reality that Okun’s law has broken down, and that monetary expansion today is supporting crony industries, and exacerbating income inequality, but those are another story for another day)

February 15, 2013

Germany, Spain Set To Pull The Plug On Green Energy

Over ten years ago, when Europe was a bright and shining example of experimental monetarist "brilliance", and when the money was flowing, the continent decided to do the ethical thing and actively promote the pursuit and development of renewable energy through countless government subsidies. As a result, Germany and Spain became the undisputed leaders in the race for a green future, and both created similar laws to encourage the development of renewable energy. There were two problems: i) green energy, while noble in theory, is about the worst idea possible when it comes to profitability and capital self-sustainability and constantly needs governmental subsidies, and ii) it was the end consumers who would pay for the government's generosity, in the form of a surcharge on electric bills. In Germany, for example, as the industry grew (in size, and thus in losses) demand for the subsidy increased, driving the surcharge higher. In January, the surcharge, which amounts to about 14% of electricity prices, nearly doubled to 5.28 euro cents per kilowatt hour.

And, as the WSJ so deftly explains, "that means ordinary consumers shoulder the lion's share of the costs for what the German government calls its "energy revolution." And here is where a third problem comes into play, because while German and Spanish consumers were happy to pay a surcharge in the golden days of a Dr. Jekyll Europe when everything was great, soon Europe become a doomed Mr. Hyde-ian Frankenstein monster, with imploding economies, 60%+ youth unemployment and resurgent neo-nazi powers. In short: the German and Spanish consumers have had it with funding an infinite money drain (even bigger than Greece), when cash flow is scarce and getting worse, and have just said "Basta" and "Nein", respectively.

Which means it is now a political issue in Spain, where the scandal ridden Rajoy has never been more unpopular, and certainly in Germany where Merkel faces an election in September and can't allow the public opinion to shift against her. As a result "with Spain in the grips of recession, the government wants to lower consumers' light bills. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel faces an election in September and hopes to win points with voters by putting a stop to rising electricity bills."

Specifically, "Ms. Merkel's government on Thursday proposed putting a cap on the green-energy surcharge until the end of 2014 and then restricting any rise in the surcharge after that to no more than 2.5% a year. The government also plans to tighten exemptions, which would force more companies to pay, and achieve a cut in green subsidies of €1.8 billion ($2.42 billion). The plan is a quick fix pending comprehensive reform after the election, government officials said."

Spain is not far behind:
The Spanish parliament took a similar step on Thursday, passing a law that aims to curb rising household electricity costs by cutting aid to the renewable-energy industry.

Renewable-energy producers "are going to receive less revenue, but these measures are better for consumers" said Energy Minister José Manuel Soria.

Among the changes in the Spanish system, the new law indexes certain subsidies and compensation to an inflation estimate that strips out the effects of energy, food commodities, and tax changes.
Naturally the response from the subsidized industries has been swift and damning:
Renewable-energy companies said that the government was backing away from previous promises that it would ensure them a reasonable return on their investments.

"Spain's government is trying to smash the renewable-energy sector through legislative modifications," said José Miguel Villarig, chairman of the country´s Association of Renewable-Energy Producers.
Actually all the Spanish government is thing to do is stay in power, and in order to do so, it must stop demanding that its people pay for the development of financial black hole industries.

The immediate result of these steps will be a widespread collapse in the alternative energy space in Europe, which is barely sustainable on an "as is" basis (see Solyndra) with ongoing government funding, and will melt as fast as a snowball in the Iceland thermal when the money is even modestly cut off.

Because like all truly money losing government ventures, one can't mothball a project that by definition has to lose money in hope one day it will be a new money-winning paradigm, especially since the imminent deleveraging wave which will hit the world once Chinese inflation wakes from its slumber, will mean conventional energy costs will once again have no choice but to drop (see: "On This Day In History.... Gas Prices Have Never Been Higher").

Yet all this means is that the government will merely have to find other, more creative ways to lose money now that the alternative energy fad is virtually dead. Luckily, spending money with absolutely nothing to show for it is one thing that every government in the current insolvent global regime, has a peculiar knack for. It also means that thousands of former government workers with no real marketable skills are about to hit the streets demanding more handouts from the nanny state, and lead to yet another wave of European civil unrest just as the 'other people's money' is about to run out.


February 14, 2013

Scientific American: Banks Are Too Complex to Succeed, Except for Central Banks

Too Big to Succeed ...On December 20, 1994 Mexico's newly installed president Ernesto Zedillo devalued the currency, the peso, by 15%. As a candidate he had said he would "defend the peso like a dog." That day the peso went from 3.47, where it had been for a year, to 3.95 and the trading floors of Wall Street were filled with the sounds of barking dogs ... As the crisis continued to unfold it became clear that few, including myself, had understood what could go wrong. What had seemed a relatively straightforward asset was too complex to be managed in such an ad hoc manner. This is far more common on Wall Street than most realize. Just last year JP Morgan revealed a $6 billion loss from a convoluted investment in credit derivatives. The post mortem revealed that few, including the actual trader, understood the assets or the trade. It was even found that an error in a spreadsheet was partly responsible. – Scientific American

Dominant Social Theme: Big private-sector banks need to be busted up.

Free-Market Analysis: Okay, dear reader, here is a conundrum you can help us solve. First, some background.

Chris Amade is the author of a recent article that appeared in Scientific American entitled "Too Big to Succeed," excerpted above. Mr. Amade has a Ph.D. in physics and designed credit models for Salomon Brothers in its heyday.

Scientific American is a great place to publish an article because it is considered to be a pre-eminent magazine of science, a publication the editors of which pride themselves on common-sensical erudition.

So here's our question: How in the world can Mr. Amade write an article complaining that big banks are too complex and ought to be broken up without mentioning central banking?

Somehow, we are to believe that private-sector banking swims in an ether provided by central banks – but this atmosphere is normal and natural while private-sector banking is troubled and abnormal.
We're not making this up. Here's more from the article.

Banks have become massive, bloated with new complex financial products unleashed by deregulation. The assets at US commercial banks have increased five times to $13 trillion, with the bulk clustered at a few major institutions. JP Morgan, the largest, has $2.5 trillion in assets.
Much has been written about banks being "too big to fail." The equally important question is are they "too big to succeed?" Can anyone honestly risk manage $2 trillion in complex investments?

Okay, good points. But if managing US$2 trillion is complicated, how complicated is it to manage US$20 trillion or US$200 trillion? Around the world, central bankers are surely managing this much in aggregate.

The biggest and best scientific journal in the US and a big brain who used to write algorithms for Salomon Brothers have teamed up to bring us the considered opinion that no facility in the world can effectively run a US$2 trillion book. So, just to repeat ourselves, how come no one ever mentions that central banks – running ten or one hundred times that amount – are not up to the task, either?
It is really incredible that even the "best and brightest" can't see that the complexities of the modern money system are entirely out of hand and that it will not end well. Scientific American and Mr. Amade could have done everyone a favor by writing an article explaining that the modern monopoly, fiat-money system as administered by the good, gray men of central banking is not just destined to fail but will likely explode spectacularly.

Of course, we are being a bit facetious here, to be sure. We KNOW why central banks don't come in for the criticism they deserve. The power elite that runs these banks and derives its incomprehensible fortune from them doesn't gladly tolerate the criticism.

Those in the money business who are building up their careers are frightened to mention even the reality of Money Power, much less its problems.

And so we get logical inconsistencies like this one. Top brains writing in the most prestigious science magazines available about how big private-sector banks should be simplified.

But the REAL complexity – and the real disaster – does not lie with private sector banks but with the nightmare of central banking that now has spread about the world like a terrible mesh imprisoning us all.

The corrosive effect of Money Power is that its mere presence dissuades analysis. It perverts the larger conversation and thus renders smaller ones incomprehensible. This is part of the sadness of the Modern Age. The very best minds and institutions are reduced to presenting us with sophistic observations that clearly do not reveal the truth.

Conclusion: They do this because they are afraid. The reserve dollar is not the currency of the world today. Fear is the currency.


February 13, 2013

Is This The Beginning Of A Horrifying Stock Market Crash In Europe?

Are we witnessing the start of a historic financial meltdown in Europe?  In recent days, two massive corruption scandals have greatly shaken confidence in European financial markets.  The first involves Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.  It is being alleged that he has been receiving illegal cash payments, and the calls for his resignation grow louder with each passing day.  The second is a derivatives scandal at the third largest bank in Italy.  Allegedly, there were some very large unreported derivatives deals that were supposed to help hide losses at the bank, but instead they actually made the losses much larger.  The investigation that is looking into this derivatives scandal is starting to spread to other banks, and nobody is quite sure how far down the rabbit hole this thing goes.  But what everyone does agree on is that this derivatives scandal has shaken up Italian politics, and the outcome of the upcoming election is now very uncertain.  Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is rapidly rising in the polls, and the European establishment is less than thrilled about that.  Meanwhile, stock indexes all over Europe fell rapidly on Monday, and even the Dow was down 129 points.  So will all this blow over in a few days, or is this the beginning of a full-blown stock market crash in Europe?

That is a very good question.  Perhaps there would not be so much concern if the overall European economy was doing well, but the truth is that the underlying economic fundamentals in Europe have continued to get even worse.  The unemployment rate in the eurozone is at an all-time high, and the unemployment rates in both Greece and Spain are now over 26 percent.  Much of southern Europe is already in the midst of a full-blown economic depression, so it really has been remarkable that the financial markets in Europe have been able to hold up as well as they have so far.

But now all of that may be changing.  Just check out what happened on Monday according to Bloomberg
National benchmark indexes declined in all of the 18 western European markets, except Greece and Denmark. Italy’s FTSE MIB Index (FTSEMIB) sank 4.5 percent, the most in six months. Spain’s IBEX 35 slid 3.8 percent for a sixth day of declines, the longest losing streak in 10 months. France’s CAC 40 plunged 3 percent for the biggest drop since April. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 dropped 1.6 percent and Germany’s DAX lost 2.5 percent.
Unfortunately, what happened on Monday was just the continuation of a trend that started last week.  The following is from Zero Hedge
The last four days have seen the biggest plunge in over six months with the IBEX (Spain -5.7%) and Italy’s MIB -6.7%. At the same time, Europe’s seemingly invincible OMT-promise-protected sovereign bond market has started to underwhelm. Italian bond spreads are 32bps wider and Spain 28bps wider – the biggest increase in risk in two months.
European banks have been hit particularly hard during this recent downturn.
Just check out some of the huge declines that European banking stocks experienced on Monday
UniCredit SpA: -8.3 percent
Commerzbank AG: -5.9 percent
Santander: -5.7 percent
Intesa Sanpaolo SpA: -5.4 percent
Credit Agricole SA: -5.4 percent
Société Générale SA: -4.8 percent
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA: -4.7 percent

Those are huge moves for just a single day of trading.  If we have a couple of more days like that, everyone is going to be talking about a “stock market crash” in Europe.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that any solutions to the scandals that are shaking up southern Europe right now will be forthcoming any time soon.

In Spain, it is increasingly looking like the Prime Minister may actually have to resign.  A recent CNN article explained what the scandal is all about…
Rajoy denied on Saturday allegations that he and other leaders of his conservative People’s Party had received secret cash payments from a fund operated by the party’s former treasurer. Rajoy said he would publish details of his personal wealth and income tax states on the prime minister’s website.
Of course politicians all over the world are accused of doing evil things all the time, but in this instance it appears that there may be some solid evidence that Rajoy may not be able to deny.  The following comes from a Bloomberg report
Newspaper El Pais last week published allegations of illegal cash payments, featuring extracts from handwritten ledgers by the former People’s Party Treasurer Luis Barcenas showing payments to officials including Rajoy.
At this point, opinion polls are showing that even most of his own supporters do not believe him
Polls show that 60pc of his own supporters do not believe the official explanation. A national petition drive calling for his resignation has already collected almost 800,000 signatures. Socialist oppo­sition leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba yesterday joined the chorus calling for Mr Rajoy’s head, saying the country had ­become “ungovernable”.
So definitely expect things in Spain to get worse before they get better.
Meanwhile, the derivatives scandal in Italy continues to get more “interesting”.  Italy’s third largest bank is on the brink of collapse due to huge problems with derivatives contracts, and that bank just happens to be closely linked with the Italian politician that is currently leading in the polls
The Italian scandal is related to Italy’s third-biggest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which has received two government bailouts and may yet have to be nationalized as its losses mount.
The bank is closely associated to Italy’s Democratic Party, whose leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, is leading in the polls, though slipping from his highs as former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi makes a late surge before the Feb. 25th general election. “The Monte [banking] scandals now look like overwhelming the Italian election campaign and put [Mr.] Bersani and the Democratic Party’s victory at risk,” James Walston, political commentator at the American University of Rome,  said in his Monday blog.
The Monte scandal centres on allegedly unreported derivatives deals that were apparently designed to hide losses and instead made the losses deeper. The bank, now under new management, has admitted that the derivatives losses might total more than €700-million.
So who benefits from all of this?  Well, it turns out that as a result of this scandal former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is rapidly gaining more support.  The following is from a recent Telegraph article
In Italy, ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi has upset the political landscape just three weeks before elections, surging back into contention with vows to rip up “German-imposed” austerity policies and cancel a hated property tax.
His Right-wing alliance has risen to 28pc in the polls, relishing a widening scandal at Banca Monte dei Paschi that has embroiled the Italian left.
But even if none of these scandals had happened, it was inevitable that the gigantic debt bubble in Europe would end up bursting at some point.
In fact, the entire globe is on the verge of a debt implosion.  This was something that Bill Gross of Pimco discussed in his February newsletter
So our credit-based financial markets and the economy it supports are levered, fragile and increasingly entropic – it is running out of energy and time. When does money run out of time? The countdown begins when investable assets pose too much risk for too little return; when lenders desert credit markets for other alternatives such as cash or real assets.”
No debt bubble can expand indefinitely.  At some point it can no longer hold itself together.
Europe is rapidly approaching that point, and so is the United States.
So how much time do we have left?