M. C. Escher Order and chaos 1950
Chris Whalen on the absence of price discovery.
President Donald Trump has been criticizing the Federal Open Market Committee for raising interest rates. The reaction of the US equity markets is self explanatory. But while the economist love cult in the Big Media may take umbrage at President Trump’s critique of the central bank, in fact Trump is dead right. First, the Fed’s actions in terms of buying $4 trillion in Treasury debt and mortgage paper has badly crippled the value of the fixed income market as a measure of risk. The Treasury yield curve no longer accurately describes the term structure of interest rates or risk premiums. This means that the Treasury yield curve is useless as an indicator of or guide for policy. Nobody at the Federal Reserve Board understands this issue or cares.
Second, Operation Twist further manipulated and distorted the Treasury market. By selling short-term paper and buying long dated securities, the Fed suppressed long-term interest rates, again making indicators like the 10-year Treasury bond useless as an measure of risk. Without QE 2-3 and Operation Twist, the 10-Year Treasury would be well over 4% by now. Instead it is 3% and change and will probably rally to test 3% between now and year end. Third is the real issuing bothering President Trump, even if he cannot find the precise words, namely liquidity. We have the illusion of liquidity in the financial markets today. Sell Side firms are prohibited by Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule from deploying capital in the cash equity and debt markets. All bank portfolios are now passive. No trading, no market making. There is nobody to catch the falling knife.
The only credit being extended today in the short-term markets is with collateral. There is no longer any unsecured lending between banks and, especially, non-banks. As we noted in The Institutional Risk Analyst earlier this week, there are scores of nonbank lenders in mortgages, autos and consumer unsecured lending that are ready to go belly up. Half of the non-bank mortgage lenders in the US are in default on their bank credit lines. As in 2007, the model builders at the Fed in Washington have no idea nor do they care to hear outside opinions. If you understand that the Fed’s previous “extraordinary” policy actions have the effect of understating LT interest rates by at least a percentage point, then you know why President Trump is howling like a wounded hound. Nobody understands the danger of leverage better than a real estate developer.
But nobody says it’ll take 70-80%. Why?
Investors should brace themselves for a significant stock market correction, as well as a recession in the first half of next year, investor Mark Yusko warned on Thursday. In fact, he says, fair value for equities would be down about 40 percent to 50 percent. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the stock market will have to go to fair value, Yusko said. “If interest rates keep normalizing, if liquidity keeps falling, if earnings go to where I think they are going to go, which is lower, I think we are going to have a meaningful correction,” the founder and chief investment officer at Morgan Creek Capital said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.”
Yusko, a noted stock picker who took first place in Portfolios with Purpose’s fantasy stock-picking contest in 2016, predicts a recession in the first or second quarter of 2019. “Things are paying out now just like they did in 2000, 2001, 2002,” he said. In the back part of 2000, the stock market went down, 2001 brought a recession, and in 2002 the stock market took a big turn down. “It’s just going to be painful for a while to adjust this overvaluation,” Yusko added. [..] Yusko also questioned whether the economy is really strong. “We had one good quarter. We’ve been sub 2 percent [economic growth] for six years,” he said. Plus, forecasts are that GDP is going to be lower than expectations in the third quarter and even lower in the fourth quarter, and there are bad demographics and bad debt, he added.
“..there’s now even less reason to believe the Fed will raise rates at the next meeting in December.”
Last month I was in a series of high-level meetings with members of Congress and the Senate in Washington. While there’s been major news about the Supreme Court, my discussions were on something that both sides of the aisle are coming to consensus over. You see, issues that impact your own bottom line are way more about economics than they are about politics. On Capitol Hill, leaders know that. They also know that voters react to what impacts their money. That’s why, behind the scenes, I’ve been discussing issues focused on protecting the economy. Behind closed doors, we’ve been working on how to shield the economy from Too Big to Fail banks and how the U.S. can better fund infrastructure projects. These are initiatives that all politicians should care about.
Underneath the surface of the economy is a financial system that is heavily influenced by the Federal Reserve. That’s why political figures and the media alike have all tried to understand what direction the system is headed. Also last week I joined Fox Business at their headquarters to discuss the economy, the Fed and what they all mean for the markets. On camera, we discussed this week’s Federal Reserve meeting and the likely outcomes. Off camera, we jumped into a similar discussion that those in DC have pressed me on. Charles Payne, the Fox host, asked me what I thought of new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, in general. Payne knew that I view the entire central bank system as a massive artificial bank and market stimulant.
What I told him is that Powell actually has a good sense of balance in terms of what he does with rates, and the size of the Fed’s book. He understands the repercussion that moving rates too much, too quickly, or selling off the assets, could have on the global economy and the markets. Savvy investors know that if the U.S. economy falters, because everything is connected, it could reverberate on the world. That’s why I could forecast that the Fed would raise rates by 25 basis points last week ahead of time. And they did. However, there’s now even less reason to believe the Fed will raise rates at the next meeting in December.
Could USD lose its position in just 5-10 years?
It is worth recalling how the dollar gained international prominence in the first place. Before 1914, it played essentially no international role. But a geopolitical shock, together with an institutional change, transformed the dollar’s status. The geopolitical shock was World War I, which made it hard for neutral countries to transact with British banks and settle their accounts using sterling. The institutional change was the Federal Reserve Act, which created an entity that enhanced the liquidity of markets in dollar-denominated credits and allowed US banks to operate abroad for the first time. By the early 1920s the dollar had matched and, on some dimensions, surpassed sterling as the principal vehicle for international transactions.
This precedent suggests that 5-10 years is a plausible time frame over which the US could lose what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then France’s finance minister, famously called the “exorbitant privilege” afforded it by issuing the world’s main international currency. This doesn’t mean that foreign banks and companies will shun the dollar entirely. US financial markets are large and liquid and are likely to remain so. US banks operate globally. In particular, foreign companies will continue to use dollars in transactions with the US itself.
But in an era of US unilateralism, they will want to hedge their bets. If the geopolitical shock of Trump’s unilateralism spurs an institutional innovation that makes it easier for European banks and companies to make payments in euros, then the transformation could be swift (as it were). If Iran receives euros rather than dollars for its oil exports, it will use those euros to pay for merchandise imports. With companies elsewhere earning euros rather than dollars, there will be less reason for central banks to hold dollars in order to intervene in the foreign exchange market and stabilize the local currency against the greenback. At this point, there would be no going back.
Before more tariffs kick in.
China reported on Friday an unexpected acceleration in export growth in September and a record trade surplus with the United States, which could exacerbate an already-heated dispute between Beijing and Washington. September exports rose 14.5 percent from a year earlier, Chinese customs data showed. That blew past forecasts for an 8.9 percent increase in a Reuters poll and was well above August’s 9.8 percent gain. Growth in imports for September instead showed a moderate slowdown to 14.3 percent from 19.9 percent in August, slightly missing analysts’ forecast of a 15.0 percent growth.
China’s trade surplus with the United States widened to a record in September despite wider application of U.S. tariffs, an outcome that could push President Donald Trump to turn up the heat on Beijing in their trade dispute. The politically-sensitive surplus was $34.13 billion in September, surpassing the record of $31.05 billion in August. China’s export data has been surprisingly resilient to tariffs, possibly because companies ramped up shipments before broader and stiffer U.S. duties went into effect.
Is it election time?
Facebook has purged more dissident political media pages today, this time under the pretense of protecting its users from “inauthentic activity”. In a statement co-authored by Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher (who also happens to be the former White House National Security Council Director of Cybersecurity Policy), the massive social media platform explained that it has removed “559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
This “inauthentic behavior”, according to Facebook, consists of using “sensational political content -regardless of its political slant- to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites,” which is the same as saying they write about controversial things, and posting those political articles “in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites.” In other words, the pages were removed for publishing controversial political content and trying to get people to read it. Not for writing “fake news”, but for doing what they could to get legitimate indie media news stories viewed by people who might want to view it.
[..] Two of the most high-profile pages which were shut down have probably been seen at some point by any political dissident who uses Facebook; the Free Thought Project, which had 3.1 million followers, and Anti-Media, which had 2.1 million. [..] As if that wasn’t creepy enough, some of the accounts purged by Facebook appear to be getting censored on Twitter as well, bringing back memories of the August cross-platform coordinated silencing of Alex Jones. The aforementioned Anti-Media has now been suspended from Twitter just hours after tweeting about being removed from Facebook, along with one of its top writers Carey Wedler, and a Unicorn Riot activist named Patti Beers who had more than 30,000 Twitter followers has just been removed from both sites as well.
“EU rules do not allow the ECB to help a country unless this has already agreed on a rescue “program”..
Italy’s parliament approved on Thursday deficit-raising spending targets, defying markets and Italy’s eurozone partners who had been pressing for changes. The parliamentary vote clears the proposals to be forwarded to the European Commission for review. But the document already has been criticized as unrealistic by the parliament’s own budget office and the Bank of Italy. The new spending targets are set to raise Italy’s deficit to 2.4 per cent of GDP next year. In a slight softening, Italy’s leaders pledged to lower the deficit in the subsequent two years. But that has done little to assuage concern over the boost in spending to meet a raft of campaign promises made by the two populist parties that formed the governing coalition, and the impact it will have on Italy’s high public debt.
Also on Thursday, five senior sources told Reuters that the European Central Bank won’t come to Italy’s rescue if its governments or bank sector run out of cash unless the country secures a bailout from the European Union. Italy has seen its borrowing costs surge on financial markets since its new government unveiled plans to increase its budget deficit, defying EU rules and reawakening concerns about its huge pile of public debt. The sources, attending an economic summit in Indonesia, said Italy could still avoid a debt crisis if its government changed course but should not count on the central bank to tame investors or prop up its banks.
This is because EU rules do not allow the ECB to help a country unless this has already agreed on a rescue “program” – political jargon for a bailout in exchange for belt-tightening and painful economic reforms, an option the Italian government has firmly rejected. Any attempt to circumvent those rules would damage the ECB’s credibility beyond repair and undermine acceptance of the monetary union in creditor countries, such as Germany, the sources said. “It’s a test-case to show Europe and its mechanisms work,” said one of the sources on the sidelines of the IMF’s annual meetings in the Indonesian resort town of Nusa Dua.
You don’t need 15 guys to kill someone.
The Washington Post has provided further details on its prior reporting that US intelligence knew full well that Saudi Arabia was seeking to lure the now disappeared and allegedly murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi to its embassy in Istanbul in order detain or kill him. In an interesting new revelation the Post speculates based on intel sources that the whole October 2nd incident may have been an attempted “rendition” gone wrong. As more damning evidence emerges showing a Saudi “hit team” of 15 military and intelligence individuals murdered Khashoggi and chopped up his body to carry out of the country, there now appears a strong consensus that the order may have come straight from the top, most likely from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) himself.
Middle East Eye, for example, concludes based on WaPo’s prior report, “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, ordered an operation targeting journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi… citing US intelligence intercepts.” What’s more is that NBC now reports that the Turks had the Saudi consulate bugged with listening devices before the disappearance and what now appears to be gruesome murder — which suggests Turkey is currently in possession of an audio recording of the alleged killing.
The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has hardened resistance in the U.S. Congress to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, already a sore point for many lawmakers concerned about the humanitarian crisis created by Yemen’s civil war. Even before Turkish reports said Khashoggi was killed at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Democratic U.S. lawmakers had placed “holds” on at least four military equipment deals, largely because of Saudi attacks that have killed Yemeni civilians. President Donald Trump was wary of halting arms sales over the case, saying on Thursday the kingdom would just move its money into Russia and China.
[..] An informal U.S. review process lets the top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees stall major foreign arms deals if they have concerns such as whether weapons would be used to kill civilians. Corker said he recently told a defense contractor not to push for a deal with the Saudis, even before the Khashoggi case. “I shared with him before this happened, please do not push to have any arms sales brought up right now because they will not pass. It will not happen. With this, I can assure it won’t happen for a while,” Corker said. While details of all the blocked Saudi deals were not immediately available, one was the planned sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-tech munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“She occasionally gets a taxi but finds that depletes her food budget. “A taxi is a meal..”
More than a million people in the UK live in “food deserts” – neighbourhoods where poverty, poor public transport and a dearth of big supermarkets severely limit access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, a study has claimed. Nearly one in 10 of the country’s most economically deprived areas are food deserts, it says – typically large out-of-town housing estates and deprived inner-city wards served by a handful of small, relatively expensive corner shops. Public health experts are concerned that these neighbourhoods – which are often also “food swamps” with high densities of fast-food outlets – are helping to fuel a rise in diet-related conditions such as obesity and diabetes, as well as driving food insecurity.
The most deprived areas include Marfleet in Hull, Hartcliffe in Bristol, Hattersley in Greater Manchester, Everton in Liverpool and Sparkbrook in Birmingham. Eight of Scotland’s 10 most deprived food deserts are in Glasgow, and three of Wales’s nine worst are in Cardiff. The study, by the Social Market Foundation thinktank and food company Kellogg’s, says poor, elderly and disabled people are disproportionately affected, as they cannot afford or are physically unable to travel to large supermarkets.
Food deserts are defined by the report as neighbourhoods of between 5,000-15,000 people served by two or fewer big supermarkets. In “normal” areas of this size there are typically between three and seven large food stores, it says. Small shops are less likely to sell fresh or healthy food. The report cites Lisa Cauchi, a mother of eight in Salford, in the north-west of England, who said the nearest reliable source of affordable fresh fruit and vegetables was a big supermarket half an hour’s walk away. She occasionally gets a taxi but finds that depletes her food budget. “A taxi is a meal,” she said.