Dec 182018
 


Titian The rape of Europe 1560-62

 

It took me a while to decide which word(s) best define the past year and the next one, but I think this is pretty much it. 2018 was chaotic more than anything else, and that chaos will give rise to mayhem in 2019.

What I think is striking is that this is true across the board, in all walks of life so to speak. In finance, in politics, in energy markets, in ecological matters, and perhaps most of all in the ways all these topics are being covered by what once were trusted media.

I’m going to have to come back to all these topics separately, so it’s promising to be a very busy holiday season, but it’s also good to try and put them together in one place, if only to show how interconnected everything is. And how futile it is to look at the economy without seeing its connection to energy flows and ecosystems. And vice versa.

 

In finance and economics, we’ve seen an avalanche of falling numbers recently, in stock prices, bond prices, housing, across the globe, and obviously that evokes a lot of comments in the financial press. But that press, and bankers investors on their own, still talk about markets.

However, as I wrote in April 2018, if there is no price discovery, and there isn’t, there ARE NO markets, and it would be good and beneficial if many more people absorb that simple reality. Many more so-called traders and investors would be a start, but by no means enough. Lots more people who have nothing to do with the ‘markets’ should understand why there is no such thing anymore.

As long as you limit it to stock and bond markets, it may appear fine that people don’t understand. But as soon as you acknowledge there are no housing markets either for the exact same reasons, the story changes considerably. Because then it becomes clear that all -former- markets, bar none, have been eviscerated by central bank policies that sought to prop up banks, often highly successfully so, which they knew could only happen at the expense of communities and societies.

We’ve ended up with scores of mom and pop ‘investors’ who own hugely overpriced stocks and homes, while their pensions funds hold zillions ‘worth’ of bonds and also increasingly stocks. The link between pensions and AAA-rate assets was pulverized in the process. That looks set to continue, and worsen, in 2019. But that may be just the look of things. Because there really are no markets, there is no price discovery.

What is still there is a lot of talk about whether the Fed -and other central banks- will raise rates further or not, or will stop or continue their asset buying schemes. Central banks are the only game in town, there are no markets, nobody knows what anything is really worth because the Fed etc. took the discovery process beyond their reach.

And now all those financial ‘subjects’ are sitting on all this stuff that only appears to have value, and that value hinges exclusively on what Draghi, Kuroda, Yellen and now Jay Powell have decided things are worth. And yes, it does make matters appear okay, but because they can’t do QE forever, all of those values will need to be re-assessed by actual markets once Powell et al. are either thrown out or decide for themselves to leave the arena.

It won’t be pretty, it will be devastating. It’s impossible to say if it will come to a head in 2019, because the Fed can lower rates a bit again after its recent rate hikes and prop up the zombie for longer. Then again Draghi can’t do that anymore since he’s already in negative rate territory, and while the euro could fall to parity with the USD as a consequence, there’s a limit to that too.

Anyway, more on that later.

 

Energy and ecology seem to become more intertwined as we go along, though that may well be a trompe oeil, trick of the eye. Still, if you see and read what people have to say about things like the big COP24 event in Katowice last week, it’s obvious that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics is a hard one to internalize. Because that law seems to say that the use of energy, period, produces waste, while all these mostly well-meaning folk are merely focusing on shifting between energy sources.

There is surprisingly little attention for not using energy in the first place, which the 2nd Law appears to stipulate is the only way to stop the rot. And it’s entirely feasible to build homes that use 70-80% less power to heat and cool, or to design a transport system in a city that saves that much energy.

But the ‘leaders’, politicians and business people, prefer to address solar panels and wind turbines that allow for the amount of energy used to fall only moderately, which when combined with the economic growth that nobody questions, will lead to the use of ever more energy.

And I get that, you need to shrink your present economies, and the models they’re based on, in order to save the planet. I’m not so much talking about climate change, since the earth is a system so complex we should really be very cautious about deriving any conclusions about it from simplified models, but the species extinction reported in 2018 is another, and more immediately convincing, story.

Still, conferences like COP24, or its predecessor COP21 which I wrote about 3 years ago in CON21, are not just entirely useless, they move everything backward that all the worried boys and girls are so worried about.

The movers and shakers of the world all owe their positions to the economies, and therefore the levels of energy use, that the worried people now want to move away from. And then they turn to the same movers and shakers to make that happen. Sorry, no can do. All you’ll get is lip service from people looking for money and power, who are not interested in being proved wrong if they are.

Today’s climate discussion is a road to nowhere where down the line there’ll be nobody left to talk to and no birds singing. You yourself probably won’t be there either. There is not one politician who will volunteer to give up their power if that could save the world their children will have to live in. They’ll come up with a story where their position is save and so is that world, and they’re more than likely to believe it.

 

As for the media, the tale gets darker fast. It didn’t start in 2018, but it did become a lot more outspoken. As I’ve said before, there are three targets for the former trusted sources of impartial news, even as those sources rapidly become more partial as we move forward. And that of course has to do with their new business model I wrote about a lot: writing negative stories about Donald Trump became an obvious source of revenue well before he was president.

Once he was elected, the media doubled down. They wrote against Trump at first thinking he would be beaten in the GOP primaries, then some more when he faced Hillary, then because they didn’t like him in the White House, and finally because he turned out to be the business proposition that quite literally kept them alive. What was it, over 100,000 new subscribers for the NYT a MONTH at a certain point?! Would CNN and Rachel Maddow even exist anymore without the Donald?

But that also means that the MSM cannot report anything positive about the man, with the exception of a bombing campaign in a faraway sandbox, and that is pretty crazy. No matter where you stand politically, not even Trump can do everything wrong, but CNN, MSNBC, WaPo,NYT et al can’t say it out loud, because their new readers and viewers want negative stories.

I’m not at all a Trump fan, I find it insane that America can’t find a single person among its 320 million inhabitants who could better represent it, but I also saw well over two years ago that the reporting on Trump was so biased someone had to restore at least some balance. And if that was to be me, so be it.

It’s like the entire US -and UK- press has become the National Enquirer, where the questions of truth or accuracy have become, and/or always was, a complete afterthought, irrelevant to whatever is actually published. And the readers and viewers caught inside the echo chamber will never know any better than that that is what the world really looks like.

It’s the ‘old’ media’s response to the threat of social media, a fight they cannot possibly win in the end, but not one they will relinquish easily; it will be the end of them. So there’s Trump, and then there’s Russia and Julian Assange. And there’s a live shooting practice going on in which all three are fair game.

According to two reports published just yesterday in the NY Times and the BBC, African Americans and French Yellow Vests were targeted by Russian bots, trolls, give them a name. What these once trusted media no longer understand, or don’t care about, is that they are effectively saying that African Americans and Yellow Vests are all so stupid and so unconvinced and unconvincing in their political convictions that a bunch of poorly defined Russians made them throw their votes away from Hillary Clinton and towards Trump.

Like African Americans have no opinions and therefore in the end no functioning brains. Like their f*king robots, some inferior lifeform. Is there anything you can say that is more racist than that? I come up empty. And I understand Kanye.

And that the ‘Russians’ caused tens of thousands of Frenchmen and -women to put on a yellow vest and protest Macron’s dismantling of -very- long-standing labor rights and taxation ‘reforms’ that benefit the rich French elite. You cannot insult two such vast yet diverse groups of people, who seem to have little if anything in common, African Americans and Yellow Vests, you cannot insult them more or worse than such reports do.

And they simply don’t see it. In their view, and which they -rightly by now- trust their public will eat up like hot cakes, their 24/7 anti-Trump and anti-Russia campaigns have been so convincing that they can basically say anything at all by now. If Trump or the Russians deny, that’s just what they would do if they were guilty. Assange can’t deny anything at all, they’ve totally silenced him. They being the US deep state in liaison with the MSM.

 

That’s how we’re about to enter 2019, how we’re about to move from chaos to mayhem. It is scary not just because of what we see happening today, but even more because we’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Sure, US media, any country’s media, have always supported government strategic lies in times of warfare or other tensions.

But an overall campaign against a sitting president, comprised of dozens of articles a day consisting of mere allegations and rumors, let alone the same against a state nuclear power arguably mightier than the US itself, and a journalist who’s the only one in his profession who’s actually done what journalists should do, not the well-paid follow the party line thing going on at the MSM, all this is unprecedented.

And given what we’ve seen in 2018 in the realm of banned social media accounts, in a wider sense of the word, we can only wonder how much worse the censorship can get in the mayhem year of 2019.

Can the Automatic Earth, and for instance our friends at Zero Hedge, only continue to exist next year if we agree to increasingly become the poodles of the ruling political classes, intelligence services, and their press masters and lackeys?

It’s starting to look that way. So in closing, I want to call on you to support us by donating a Christmas gift, and preferably a recurring one all through the 2019 mayhem year, so we know we can continue to present you with an alternative to the ‘appropriate’ information you’re ‘supposed’ to be receiving.

It’s later than you think.

 

 

Jun 092018
 
 June 9, 2018  Posted by at 12:37 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Children and home of cotton workers at migratory camp in southern San Joaquin Valley, CA 1936

 

My long time pal Jesse Colombo, now at Real Investment Advice, recently linked on Twitter to a Zero Hedge article, which quoted CoreLogic as saying more than half of American homes are overvalued. CoreLogic calls itself “a leading provider of consumer, financial and property data, analytics and services to business and government.”

Well, CoreLogic is way off. All American homes are overvalued. How can we tell? It’s easy. It’s so easy it’s perhaps no wonder that people overlook the reasons why. But we all know them: The Fed has pushed some $20 trillion down the throats of the financial system. It has also lowered interest rates to near zero Kelvin. Then the government added a “relaxation” of lending standards and an upward tweak of credit scores. And Bob’s your uncle.

These measures haven’t influenced just half of US homes, they’ve hit every single one of them. Some more than others, not every bubble is as big as San Francisco’s, but the suggestion that nearly half of homes are not overvalued is simply misleading. It falsely suggests that if you buy a home in the ‘right’ place, you’ll be fine. You won’t be. The Washington-induced bubble will and must pop, and precious few homes will be ‘worth’ what they are ‘worth’ today.

Here’s what Jesse tweeted along with his link to the Zero Hedge article:

“Almost half of the US housing market is overvalued” – this is why U.S. household wealth is also overvalued/in an unsustainable bubble.

He followed up with:

U.S. household wealth is in a bubble thanks to Fed-inflated asset prices. This is creating a “wealth effect” that is helping to drive our spurious economic recovery. This economy is nothing but a sham. It’s smoke and mirrors. Wake the F up, everyone!!!

My reaction to this:

Sorry, my friend Jesse, but every single US home is overvalued. It just depends on the vantage point you look from. All prices have been distorted by the Fed’s policies, not just half of them. Arguably some more than others, but can that be the core argument here?

Jesse’s reply:

Yes, that’s a good point.

Another long time pal, Dave Collum, chimed in with a good observation:

I think even us bunker monkeys start recalibrating, no matter how hard we try to maintain what we believe to be perspective.

Yes, we’ve been at this for a while. Even if Jesse was still a student when he started out. We’ve been doing it so long that he recently wrote an article named: Why It’s Right To Warn About A Bubble For 10 Years. And he’s right on that too.

Let’s get to the article the conversation started with:

 

More Than Half Of American Homes Are Overvalued, CoreLogic Warns

CoreLogic reports that residential real estate prices nationwide increased 6.9% year over year from April 2017 to April 2018. The firm’s Home Price Index (HPI) also shows a 1.2% rise on the month-over-month basis from March to April 2018. This has certainly sparked the debate of housing affordability across the nation with many millennials struggling to achieve the American dream.

CoreLogic Market Condition Indicators showed that 40% of the 100 largest metropolitan areas were overvalued in April, compared to 28% undervalued, and 32% in line with valuations. The report uncovers a shocking discovery that of the nation’s top 50 largest residential real estate markets, 52% were overvalued in April.

CoreLogic’s methodology behind overvalued housing markets “as one in which home prices are at least 10% higher than the long-term, sustainable level, while an undervalued housing market is one in which home prices are at least 10% below the sustainable level.”

The CoreLogic people probably mean well, but they also probably don’t want to rattle the cage. It’s not really important. As soon as someone starts talking about a ‘sustainable level’ for home prices, you can tune out. Because no such thing exists. Unless you first take those $20 trillion out of the ‘market’, free up interest rates, tighten lending standards and lower credit scores. Only then MAY you find a ‘sustainable level’ for prices.

Historically a house in the US cost around 3 to 4 times the median annual income. During the housing bubble of 2007 the ratio surpassed 5 – in other words, the median price for a single-family home in the United States cost more than 5 times the US median annual household income. According to Mike Maloney, this ratio is heavily influenced by interest rates. When interest rates go down the affordability of a house goes up, so people spend more money on a house. Interest rates have now been falling since 1981 when they peaked at 15.32% (for a 10-year US treasury bond).

Mike Maloney, another longtime friend of the Automatic Earth, is dead on. Price to income is a useless point unless you include interest rates in the calculation. And then you can get large differences. Since interest rates have been falling for 37 years, count on them to rise. And see what that does to your model.

“The best antidote for rising home prices is additional supply,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “New construction has failed to keep up with and meet new housing growth or replace existing inventory. More construction of for-sale and rental housing will alleviate housing cost pressures,” Nothaft added.

Right, yeah. Now we know the CoreLogic mindset. The more you build, the better home prices will be. Just one of many problems with that is that if you really expect prices to fall once you build, people will build fewer houses, because profit margins fall too. The whole idea that we can save housing markets by simply building ever more has never rung very true. But that’s for another day.

In a recent op-ed piece via The Wall Street Journal, Paul Kupiec and Edward Pinto place the blame on the government for creating another real estate bubble through “loose mortgage terms pushing home prices up.” They claim that mortgage underwriters need to tighten standards.

“Home prices are booming. So far, 2018 has posted the strongest growth since 2005. “About 60% of all U.S. metros saw an acceleration in the rate of price increases through February this year,” according to Housing Wire. Since mid-2012, real home prices have increased 28%, according to data from the American Enterprise Institute. Entry-level home prices are up about double that rate. In contrast, over the same period household income has barely kept pace with inflation. The current pace of home-price inflation is increasing the risk of another housing bubble.

The Fed is raising rates -finally- and home prices grow at the fastest rate in 13 years. Over the past 6 years prices are up 28%. Entry level homes are up more than 50% in that time frame. That is just profoundly scary. It’s like Dante’s descent into hell. And no, it’s not true that “The current pace of home-price inflation is increasing the risk of another housing bubble”. We’re already caught up head first in a new housing bubble.

“The root of the problem is declining underwriting standards. In April Freddie Mac announced an expansion of its 3% down-payment mortgage, the better to compete with the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae . Such moves propel home prices upward. Because government agencies guarantee about 80% of all home-purchase mortgages, their underwriting standards guide the market.

Making lending even more dangerous, CNBC recently reported that “credit scores may go up” because new regulatory guidance allows delinquent taxes to be excluded when calculating credit scores. These are only some of the measures that “expand the credit box” and qualify ever-shakier borrowers for mortgages.”

As I said before: if you lower lending -and underwriting- standards and artificially raise credit scores, then yes, you can keep the bubble going for a while longer. But it overvalues properties. You’re just moving goalposts.

“During the last crisis, easy credit led home prices to rise at an unsustainable pace, leading marginally qualified borrowers to stretch themselves thin. Millions of Americans’ dreams became nightmares when the housing market turned. The lax underwriting terms that helped borrowers qualify for a mortgage haunted many households for the next decade.”

No, it’s not just homes. Stocks and bonds as just as overvalued. Because of a behemoth attempt at making the economy look good, even though it’s entirely fake. No price discovery, no market, just central banks and tweaking standards and surveys. C’mon, we all know where this must go. We just don’t want to know. So this Marketwatch piece gets a wry smile at best:

 

America Is House-Rich But Cash-Poor

The housing market has not only recovered from the Great Recession, it’s heated up. According to an analysis from Attom Data, nearly 14 million Americans are now “equity rich” – meaning they have at least 50% equity in their homes. It bears repeating that many owners and communities are not so lucky: over a million Americans are underwater, and some cities and towns are still reeling under the weight of abandoned and vacant homes and stagnant micro-economies. But for most of the country, rapidly rising home prices and a dearth of anything else to buy means people are staying in their homes longer, allowing them to accrue more and more equity: $15 trillion worth, to be exact.

 

 

Apr 302016
 
 April 30, 2016  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 30 2016


Byron Street haberdashery, New York 1900

US Puts China, Japan on New Watch List for FX Practices (BBG)
US Chides Five Economic Powers Over Policies (WSJ)
UK Consumers Borrow At Fastest Rate In Over A Decade (R.)
Apple Stock Suffers Worst Week Since 2013 (R.)
Chinese Cities Dive Back Into Debt To Fuel Growth Even As Defaults Rise (R.)
China’s Stocks, Bonds, Yuan Are a Triple Losing Bet This Month (BBG)
Hong Kong Underwater Mortgages Jump 15-Fold in Q1 as Prices Drop (BBG)
Derivatives Houses To Open Accounts With Federal Reserve (FT)
Draghi Challenge Seen As Consumer Prices Fall More Than Forecast (BBG)
Fighting Deflation With Unconventional Fiscal Policy (VoxEu)
Oil Market Deja Vu Triggers Predictions of a Return to $30 (BBG)
Pipelines: The Next Devastating Phase Of The Oil Bust (Forbes)
More Tigers Poached In India So Far This Year Than In All Of 2015 (AFP)
Small Mammal Shuts Down World’s Most Powerful Machine (NPR)
The Full Story Behind Bloomberg’s Attempt To “Unmask” Zero Hedge (ZH)
Turkey PM: Denying Visa-Free Travel Means Collapse Of EU Refugee Deal (DS)

Very funny. But the one country that has seen its currency gain global advantage of late is the US itself.

US Puts China, Japan on New Watch List for FX Practices (BBG)

The U.S. put economies including China, Japan and Germany on a new currency watch list, saying their foreign-exchange practices bear close monitoring to gauge whether they provide an unfair trade advantage over America. The inaugural list also includes South Korea and Taiwan, the Treasury Department said Friday in a revamped version of its semi-annual report on the foreign-exchange policies of major U.S. trading partners. The five economies met two of the three criteria used to judge unfair practices under a February law that seeks to enforce U.S. trade interests. Meeting all three would trigger action by the president to enter discussions with the country and seek potential penalties.

The new scrutiny of some of the world’s biggest economies comes amid a bruising presidential campaign in which candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties have questioned the merits of free trade. Republican front-runner Donald Trump has promised to declare China a currency manipulator, and the latest report may fail to appease critics in Congress who say China’s practices have cost American manufacturing jobs. “We will continue to watch this process closely to ensure that the president squarely addresses currency manipulation and stands up for the American people,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said in a statement on the Treasury report. The Treasury had already been monitoring countries for evidence of currency manipulation under a 1988 law.

In the latest report, the department concluded that no major trading partner qualified as a currency manipulator; the last country it labeled as such was China, in 1994. Under the new law, Treasury officials developed three criteria to decide if countries are being unfair: an economy having a trade surplus with the U.S. above $20 billion; having a current-account surplus amounting to more than 3% of its GDP; and one that repeatedly depreciates its currency by buying foreign assets equivalent to 2% of output over the year. China, Japan, Germany and South Korea were flagged as a result of their trade and current-account surpluses, the department said. Taiwan made the list because of its current-account surplus and persistent intervention to weaken the currency, according to the Treasury. If a country meets all three criteria, it could eventually be cut off from some U.S. development financing and excluded from U.S. government contracts.

Read more …

But then again, the idea is probably that attack is the best defense…

US Chides Five Economic Powers Over Policies (WSJ)

The Obama administration delivered a shot across the bow to Asia’s leading exporters and Germany for their economic policies and warned that a number of major economies around the globe could face intense pressure to engage in currency interventions to counter slow growth. The U.S. Treasury Department, in its semiannual currency report to Congress, called out China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Germany for relying on policies it says threaten to damage the U.S. and the global economy. The countries are cited in a new name-and-shame list that can trigger sanctions against offending trade partners under fresh powers Congress granted last year to address economic policies that threaten U.S. industries.

U.S. officials are increasingly concerned other countries aren’t doing enough to boost demand at home, relying too heavily on exports to bolster growth. Counting on cheap currencies as a shortcut to boosting exports can create risks across the global economy, as nations fight to stay ahead of their competitors. Over the past two decades, for example, many U.S. officials have accused China of using an undervalued currency to bolster its manufacturing sector. A cheaper currency makes products cheaper overseas. Although China has moved to address some of those worries, tension over currency policy more broadly has heightened in recent years, amid an unprecedented era of easy-money policies, weak global growth and rising exchange-rate volatility.

The failure of many countries to overhaul their economies after the financial crisis has prompted economists to slash global growth forecasts. Amplifying those worries, a 20% surge in the dollar’s value against a basket of major currencies over the past two years has slowed U.S. growth, as American products became more expensive to international buyers. The Obama administration said in its new report that the economic and currency policies of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Germany are adding to the global economy’s problems. Absent stronger efforts by those countries to boost domestic demand, “global growth has suffered and will continue to suffer,” the Treasury Department said.

Read more …

This is not good. This is very bad.

UK Consumers Borrow At Fastest Rate In Over A Decade (R.)

British mortgage approvals fell for the first time in six months in March shortly before a new tax took effect, but consumers borrowed at the fastest rate in over a decade, Bank of England data showed. Mortgage approvals for house purchases numbered 71,357 in March, down from 73,195 in February. Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast 74,500 mortgage approvals were made in March. British finance minister George Osborne announced in November that he would add a surcharge on the purchase of buy-to-let properties and second homes from April 1, in a move aimed to boost home ownership by first-time buyers. The news spurred an increase in buying of such properties in recent months before March’s slowdown as the deadline approached.

Net mortgage lending, which lags approvals, rose by £7.435 billion last month, the biggest increase since October 2007, before the global financial crisis hit and above all forecasts in the Reuters poll. Figures released earlier this week by the British Bankers’ Association, which are less comprehensive than those of the BoE, also showed a fall in mortgage approvals in March accompanied by a rise in mortgage lending as previously approved deals were carried out. The BoE said consumer credit grew by £1.883 billion last month, the strongest increase since March 2005 and a long way above the median forecast for an increase of £1.3 billion in the Reuters poll of economists. The rise was not a one-off: in the first quarter as a whole, consumer credit rose by an annualised 11.6%, the strongest increase since the first three months of 2015.

Read more …

The narrative: “..progress [in China] has been a let-down..”. But a 26% plunge in revenue is not just a ‘let-down’.

Apple Stock Suffers Worst Week Since 2013 (R.)

Apple on Friday ended its worst week on the stock market since 2013 as worries festered about a slowdown in iPhone sales and after influential shareholder Carl Icahn revealed he sold his entire stake. Shares of Apple, a mainstay of many Wall Street portfolios and the largest component of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, have dropped 11% in the past five sessions. That shrank the technology behemoth’s market capitalization by $65 billion. Confidence in the company has been shaken since posting its first-ever quarterly decline in iPhone sales and first revenue drop in 13 years on Tuesday, although Apple investors pointed to the stock’s relatively low valuation as a key reason to hold onto the stock. “If you’re going to buy Apple, you have to buy it for the long term, because the next year or two are going to be very tough,” said Michael Yoshikami, chief executive of Destination Wealth Management.

Faced with lackluster sales of smartphones in the United States, Apple has bet on China as a major new growth engine, but progress there has been a let-down. Revenue from China slumped 26% during the March quarter and its iBooks Stores and iTunes Movie service in China were shut down last week after the introduction of new regulations on online publishing. Pointing to concerns that Beijing could make it difficult for Apple to conduct business in China, long-time Apple investor Carl Icahn told CNBC on Thursday that he had sold his stake in the company he previously described as a “no brainer” and undervalued. The selloff has left Apple trading at about 11 times its expected 12-month earnings, cheap compared to its average of 17.5 over the past 10 years. S&P 500 stocks on average are trading at 17 times expected earnings.

Read more …

China is fast becoming a one-dimensional nation.

Chinese Cities Dive Back Into Debt To Fuel Growth Even As Defaults Rise (R.)

With a nod from Beijing, China’s local governments have embarked on a massive new round of off-balance sheet debt financing, underpinning a fragile pick up in the economy but raising red flags on financial stability. The increased borrowing for an economy already swimming in debt adds to concerns about growing bubbles in certain major asset classes, such as real estate and commodities, and a bond market seeing a rise in corporate defaults. Economists say increasing public sector investment – most of it financed locally with debt – is behind improvements in China’s economy. First-quarter GDP rose at the weakest pace in seven years, but other data suggested growth was picking up in March. “With new infrastructure projects effectively all funded by debt and more consumer mortgages, the leverage problem and risks on the financial sector are rising,” Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a research report.

Local government financing vehicles (LGFVs), which Chinese cities use to circumvent official spending limits, raised at least 538 billion yuan ($83 billion) in bonds in the first quarter, up 178% from a year earlier and the highest quarterly issuance since June 2014, Everbright Securities said, quoting figures from privately held financial data provider WIND. Issuance in March alone was a monthly record of 287 billion yuan ($44.3 billion). China’s planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, declined to comment on the sharp rise in LGFV issuance. Most of the LGFV debt in the first quarter was made up of so-called enterprise bonds, which the NDRC oversees. Beijing had been trying to move LGFV debt on to municipal balance sheets via the 2014 creation of a municipal bond market. But policymakers retreated from this in the middle of 2015, easing borrowing restrictions as economic growth stumbled.

Consequently, LGFV issuance in the first quarter of 2016 was nearly 60% as large as the municipal bond issuance meant to replace it, up from just 37% in the fourth quarter of 2015, central clearinghouse and brokerage data shows. “In the second half of last year, the government raised the%age of project financing that can be funded with debt,” said Yang Zhao, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong, helping spark the flurry of LGFV deals. “If they continue on, the debt-to-GDP ratio could actually go up quite rapidly. I don’t think the policy is sustainable, and you’ll see policymakers slow down the pace of (credit) easing in a quarter or two.”

Read more …

“..Your return is too low for your risk in China.”

China’s Stocks, Bonds, Yuan Are a Triple Losing Bet This Month (BBG)

For the first time in two years, China’s stocks, bonds and currency are all a losing proposition. The Shanghai Composite dropped 2.2% in April, the yuan fell 0.6% versus the dollar, while government and corporate bonds tumbled, with the five-year sovereign yield rising 27 basis points. Even a sudden revival in the nation’s commodities markets is looking fragile after frenzied speculation prompted exchanges to take measures to cool trading. The declines mark a reversal from March, when the benchmark equities gauge jumped 12% and the yuan rallied the most since 2010 as new credit surged. Improving data from industrial output to retail sales have led traders to pare back bets for more stimulus, while rising credit defaults are fueling the biggest selloff in junk debt since the data became available in 2014.

Deutsche Bank is one bull looking to reduce holdings of Chinese stocks on bets the economy will fail to reach the government’s growth targets and yuan declines will accelerate. “Clearly there was a turn in China,” said Sean Taylor, CIO for Asia Pacific for Deutsche Bank’s wealth-management unit in Hong Kong. “You’ve seen money in the A-share market going to property and commodities. We’ve been adding risk in the last few months and coming into the summer, we will take it away and wait for opportunities to add again. We are not yet ready for China’s structural story because earnings haven’t come through.” Investor interest in the world’s second-largest equity market is waning, with turnover on the Shanghai Stock Exchange falling to levels last seen regularly in 2014 and a gauge of volatility dropping to a 12-month low. Investments in stock-market funds fell by 89 billion yuan ($13.7 billion) in April.

[..] Government bonds are coming under pressure as inflation increased to the highest since mid-2014, while corporate notes are slumping amid a spate of defaults and a surprise move by state-owned China Railway Materials to halt its bond trading this month because of what the company called “repayment issues.” “We will definitely see more defaults and difficulties for corporates in issuing new bonds,” said David Gaud at Edmond de Rothschild Asset Management in Hong Kong. “Credit costs will go up and credit spreads will widen. Your return is too low for your risk in China.”

Read more …

Small potatoes for now, but at the same time there’s nothing in sight that could reverse the trend.

Hong Kong Underwater Mortgages Jump 15-Fold in Q1 as Prices Drop (BBG)

The number of Hong Kong homeowners with apartments worth less than their mortgages surged 15 times in the first quarter, according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The number of negative-equity mortgages rose to 1,432, with a total value of HK$4.9 billion ($634 million), for the three months ended March, from 95 such home loans worth HK$418 million in the previous quarter, the city’s de facto central bank said on its website Friday.

Property prices in Hong Kong, which reached a record last year, have been sliding and sales tumbled to a 25-year low in February amid economic uncertainty. Home prices in the city slumped 13% from September to March, according to data compiled by Centaline Property Agency. The government is determined to tackle the housing problem and maintain a healthy development of the market, the city’s Rating and Valuation Department said in a report on Friday, while maintaining that it has no intention to withdraw demand-side property curbs.

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The one word that comes to mind: incestuous: “..The switch has been made possible by clearing houses’ designation as systemically-important utilities..”

Derivatives Houses To Open Accounts With Federal Reserve (FT)

Derivatives brokers choosing where to park their margin money will now have the option of the world’s most powerful central bank. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago has authorised three of the US’s largest clearing houses, run by CME Group and Intercontinental Exchange, and the Options Clearing Corporation, to open an account at the central bank. ICE’s permit is for its US credit derivatives clearing house. The change at the CME applies only to house cash belonging to brokers, its executives said on a conference call on Thursday. Margin posted by their customers will continue to be walled off and held by commercial banks or in US Treasury bonds, they confirmed.

The switch has been made possible by clearing houses’ designation as systemically-important utilities, which recognised the dangers to the financial system if they failed and gave them access to the Fed’s cash in an emergency. Tougher regulation of markets means they must now handle billions of dollars of futures and swaps trades every day. Traders who use derivatives must safeguard their deals against defaults with margin and collateral. For clearing brokers whose business has been damaged by years of low interest rates, keeping cash at the Fed could yield better returns. New market rules also authorised a regional Fed bank to maintain an account for designated clearing houses and pay earnings on any balance, as it already does for US banks subject to Fed oversight.

“When effective, we expect to pass a higher rate to clearing members for their house positions than we do today,” John Pietrowicz, CME’s chief financial officer, told analysts. Mr Pietrowicz said the accounts would open in the “next month or so”. While the majority of the returns would be passed back to clearing members, CME would also be able to “earn more” as cash balances increased. CME applied for access to a Fed account in 2014, a spokeswoman said, and would direct funds into an omnibus account for collateral and settlement services. The derivatives industry and its regulator have argued in recent years that tougher banking laws have hurt the brokerage business by making clearing uneconomical. “The resulting industry consolidation would increase systemic risk by concentrating derivatives clearing activities in fewer clearing member banks,” Walt Lukken, chief executive of the FIA industry association, testified to a US House agriculture subcommittee on Thursday.

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It might be best to ignore these numbers. Whatever BBG’s economist panel predicts is always wrong. Growth numbers are always manipulated. One good thing to take away is that consumer prices do not equal inflation.

Draghi Challenge Seen As Consumer Prices Fall More Than Forecast (BBG)

Mario Draghi’s policy challenge was highlighted once again on Friday, with the fastest economic growth in a year overshadowed by a renewed drop in consumer prices. The euro-area inflation rate fell to minus 0.2% in April, a worse out-turn than the 0.1% decline forecast by economists in a Bloomberg survey. It wasn’t all bad news for the ECB president however, with the economy expanding 0.6% in the first quarter and unemployment declining in March to the lowest since 2011. Draghi has said the situation in the 19-nation region is slowly improving, but that hasn’t assuaged his concerns about the inflation outlook. Policy makers cut interest rates and ramped up other stimulus last month, and the ECB president has signaled he’s willing to do even more to revive price growth. “Draghi has to be on alert – despite the solid growth momentum, inflation is not picking up,” said Michael Schubert at Commerzbank.

“The ECB will have to do more in the future, an extension of QE being most likely, but for the time being we’ll have to be patient.” Eurostat released the euro-area growth data about two weeks earlier than usual as it tries to make figures on output more timely, which could help inform the ECB’s policy-making. The new timing brings the region into line with the U.S. and U.K., which also publish first estimates within about a month of the end of the quarter. Based on the latest data, the euro area grew faster than both countries in the January-March period, with the U.K. expanding 0.4% and the U.S. by 0.5% on an annualized basis. National euro-zone data on Friday also provided some positive news, with both the French and Spanish economies expanding faster than expected. Growth in France accelerated to 0.5% from 0.3%, helped by investment and consumer spending, while Spain shrugged off a political deadlock that’s left it facing new elections to grow 0.8%.

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More economists entirely clueless on the link between debt and deflation. There’s tons of them, and they’re on ‘both sides of the debate’. And it doesn’t matter one iota how many ‘equations’ from their school books they can quote. Suggesting that increasing VAT rates -in incremental steps- will make people spend more ignores the reason why they don’t spend now: debt. In fact, VAT increases will make things more expensive, and that will result in less spending, not more. That’s what Japan has been showing us for 20 years.

Fighting Deflation With Unconventional Fiscal Policy (VoxEu)

In his Marjolin lecture on 4 February 2016, Mario Draghi asserted that “there are forces in the global economy that are conspiring to hold inflation down” (Draghi 2016). Eurostat confirmed that in February 2016 the annual inflation rate for the Eurozone was -0.2% (Eurostat 2016). On 10 March 2016, the ECB board agreed upon a set of largely unexpected monetary policy measures, with the aim of boosting inflation and growth in the Eurozone. These measures were inspired, among others, by thoughts in Bernanke (2010) and Blanchard et al. (2010).

The conundrum the Eurozone faces is finding a recipe to support inflation and ultimately consumption and economic growth in a setting in which traditional monetary policy measures are not viable, and governments cannot support growth with fiscal spending because of their large debt-to-GDP ratios. In this column, we discuss an alternative to monetary interventions, which we call unconventional fiscal policy. • Unconventional fiscal policy aims to increase growth and inflation in a budget neutral fashion, while keeping constant the tax burden on households.

Feldstein (2002) introduced the notion of unconventional fiscal policy measures at times of liquidity traps. Among several possible interventions Feldstein proposed: “A series of pre-announced increases in the value-added tax (VAT) to generate consumer price inflation, and hence increase private spending via intertemporal substitution.” In his words: “This [VAT] tax-induced inflation would give households an incentive to spend sooner rather than waiting until prices are substantially higher.” The intuition for this proposal is based on a simple logic: announcing higher prices in the future will increase current inflation expectations. Higher inflation expectations at times of fixed nominal interest rates should reduce real interest rates (Fisher equation), and lower real interest rates should increase households’ incentives to consume rather than save (Euler equation).

Because imposing higher VAT reduces households’ wealth – especially poorer households’ wealth – and might affect households’ labour supply, lower income taxes (or transfers for those households that do not pay any income tax) should accompany the increase in VAT. Designed this way, the policy measure would be budget-neutral for the government, as well as for households. It would incentivise households to consume immediately, jump-start the economy, and hence help the economy exit the slump. In his presidential address to the 2011 American Economic Association Annual Meeting, Bob Hall (2011) reiterated Feldstein’s ideas, and encouraged further research to understand the viability and effects of unconventional fiscal policy, both theoretically and empirically.

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Clueless: “..the current recovery could boost industry activity and slow the decline..”

Oil Market Deja Vu Triggers Predictions of a Return to $30 (BBG)

Oil’s climb above $45 a barrel is reassuring influential figures from BP to the IEA that the industry is finally recovering from the worst slump in a generation. Others say the market is about to fall into the same trap as last year. There’s a sense of deja vu at Commerzbank, BNP Paribas and UBS, who say crude’s gain of about 70% from a 12-year low in January resembles the recovery that took hold this time last year – only to sputter out by May as the supply glut endured. Prices will sink back towards $30 a barrel in the coming weeks, BNP and UBS warn. “There are dangerous parallels to 2015,” said Eugen Weinberg at Commerzbank. “The market already appears overheated and a correction is overdue.”

Last year, Brent crude rose 45% from January to almost $68 in May as traders anticipated a rapid decrease in U.S. output as drilling rigs were idled. The rally reversed when production kept rising, peaking at 9.61 million barrels a day in June 2015, a year after the price slump began. While drilling cutbacks eventually took their toll and the nation’s output slipped to 8.9 million barrels a day last week, the current recovery could boost industry activity and slow the decline.

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At least something’s trickling down…

Pipelines: The Next Devastating Phase Of The Oil Bust (Forbes)

When oil and natural gas prices began their swan dive in 2014 and continued their descent in 2015, the casualties seemed obvious. Exploration and production companies would need to file for bankruptcy protection and restructure en masse. Banks that financed these companies would need to write down bad loans and noteholders that invested in their high yield debt would be left holding the bag, or at least, the equity securities of the reorganized producers. The damage would also extend to the so-called “midstream” companies that transport oil and gas from wells to processing facilities and end-users downstream. It was thought that the damage to such midstream companies would be substantial, but manageable.

However, an ongoing legal tussle in the Sabine Oil and Gas bankruptcy proceeding in New York threatens to devastate an important corner of the $500 billion midstream industry and set off a new and entirely unexpected phase of the energy crisis. The dispute started in September 2015, when Sabine filed a motion in its bankruptcy case seeking authority to reject contracts it had entered into with two separate midstream operators that provided gas gathering and other services. Rejecting contracts and walking away from pre-bankruptcy obligations is commonplace for bankrupt debtors, but in the oil and gas industry many midstream companies thought their arrangements were protected from this risk.

That is because such gathering contracts “dedicate” the relevant oil and gas mineral interests and surrounding acreage to the midstream companies, which is intended to create a property interest known as a “real covenant” that “runs with the land.” Under longstanding bankruptcy principles, conveyances of real property—and certain associated rights—are not contracts that can be “rejected.” If the midstream companies prevailed in the argument that contractual dedications could create real covenants, then if a producer filed for bankruptcy protection or if its mineral rights were transferred to a new owner, the midstream company would retain its exclusive property right to gather oil and gas produced from the land and receive a fee for such services.

This argument seemed a strong one. However, after examining the applicable Texas property law at issue, on March 8, 2016, Judge Chapman issued a non-binding bench ruling holding that the legal requirements for treating these arrangements as real property interests were not satisfied and that they could be invalidated in bankruptcy through the contract rejection process. This ruling rocked the midstream world. It also came when similar attempts to reject gathering agreements were underway in the Quicksilver Resources and Magnum Hunter Resources bankruptcy cases in Delaware, leading to a sense that the midstream industry was under assault.

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We’re fast losing the conditions that gave us life. But we lack the intelligence to understand this. Which makes it only fitting. If you’re not smart enough to survive, then you won’t.

More Tigers Poached In India So Far This Year Than In All Of 2015 (AFP)

More tigers have been killed in India already this year than in the whole of 2015, a census showed Friday, raising doubts about the country’s anti-poaching efforts. The Wildlife Protection Society of India, a conservation charity, said 28 of the endangered beasts had been poached by April 26, three more than last year. Tiger meat and bones are used in traditional Chinese medicine and fetch high prices. “The stats are worrying indeed,” said Tito Joseph, programme manager at the group. “Poaching can only be stopped when we have coordinated, intelligence-led enforcement operations, because citizens of many countries are involved in illegal wildlife trade. It’s a transnational organised crime.”

Poachers use guns, poison and even steel traps and electrocution to kill their prey. India is home to more than half of the world’s tiger population with 2,226 in its reserves according to the last count in 2014. The figures come after a report by the WWF and the Global Tiger Forum said the number of wild tigers in the world had increased for the first time in more than a century to an estimated 3,890. The report cited improved conservation efforts, although its authors cautioned that the rise could be partly attributed to improved data gathering.

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“Nor are the problems exclusive to the LHC: In 2006, raccoons conducted a “coordinated” attack on a particle accelerator in Illinois. It is unclear whether the animals are trying to stop humanity from unlocking the secrets of the universe. Of course, small mammals cause problems in all sorts of organizations. Yesterday, a group of children took National Public Radio off the air for over a minute before engineers could restore the broadcast.”

Small Mammal Shuts Down World’s Most Powerful Machine (NPR)

A small mammal has sabotaged the world’s most powerful scientific instrument. The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile superconducting machine designed to smash protons together at close to the speed of light, went offline overnight. Engineers investigating the mishap found the charred remains of a furry creature near a gnawed-through power cable. “We had electrical problems, and we are pretty sure this was caused by a small animal,” says Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN, the organization that runs the $7 billion particle collider in Switzerland. Although they had not conducted a thorough analysis of the remains, Marsollier says they believe the creature was “a weasel, probably.” (Update: An official briefing document from CERN indicates the creature may have been a marten.)

The shutdown comes as the LHC was preparing to collect new data on the Higgs Boson, a fundamental particle it discovered in 2012. The Higgs is believed to endow other particles with mass, and it is considered to be a cornerstone of the modern theory of particle physics. Researchers have seen some hints in recent data that other, yet-undiscovered particles might also be generated inside the LHC. If those other particles exist, they could revolutionize researcher’s understanding of everything from the laws of gravity, to quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, Marsollier says, scientists will have to wait while workers bring the machine back online. Repairs will take a few days, but getting the machine fully ready to smash might take another week or two. “It may be mid-May,” he says.

These sorts of mishaps are not unheard of, says Marsollier. The LHC is located outside of Geneva. “We are in the countryside, and of course we have wild animals everywhere.” There have been previous incidents, including one in 2009, when a bird is believed to have dropped a baguette onto critical electrical systems. Nor are the problems exclusive to the LHC: In 2006, raccoons conducted a “coordinated” attack on a particle accelerator in Illinois. It is unclear whether the animals are trying to stop humanity from unlocking the secrets of the universe. Of course, small mammals cause problems in all sorts of organizations. Yesterday, a group of children took National Public Radio off the air for over a minute before engineers could restore the broadcast.

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Though they have every right to defend themselves, something makes me wish Tyler Durden had counted to 10 before writing this. They could have limited it to: “Zero Hedge admits to having hired an unstable writer”, and left it at that. That’s all the Bloomberg attempt at smut warrants. As is, Zero Hedge poebably killed the secrecy as much as Bloomberg did.

The Full Story Behind Bloomberg’s Attempt To “Unmask” Zero Hedge (ZH)

Over the years, Zero Hedge has proven to be a magnet for media attention. It started years ago with a NY Magazine article published in September 2009 which first “unmasked” the people behind Zero Hedge with the “The Dow Zero Insurgency: The nothing-can-be-believed chaos of the financial crisis created a golden opportunity for a blog run by a mysterious ex-hedge-funder with a dodgy past and conspiracy theories to burn” in which we were presented as a bunch of “conspiracy theory” tin foil hat paranoid loons. We are ok with being typecast as “conspiracy theorists” as these “theories” tend to become “conspiracy fact” months to years later.

Others, such as “academics who defend Wall Street to reap rewards” had taken on a different approach, accusing the website of being a “Russian information operation”, supporting pro-Russian interests, which allegedly involved KGB and even Putin ties, simply because we refused to follow the pro-US script. We are certainly ok with being the object of other’s conspiracy theories, in this case completely false ones since we have never been in contact with anyone in Russia, or the US, or any government for that matter. We have also never accepted a dollar of outside funding from either public or private organization – we have prided ourselves in our financial independence because we have been profitable since inception. Which brings us to the latest “outing” of Zero Hedge, this time from none other than Bloomberg which this morning leads with “Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street’s Renegade Blog” in which it makes the tacit admission that “Bloomberg LP competes with Zero Hedge in providing financial news and information.”

To an extent we were surprised, because while much of the “information” Bloomberg claims it reveals could have been discovered by anyone with a cursory 30 second google search, this time the accusation lobbed at Zero Hedge by Bloomberg was a new one: that we are capitalists who seek to generate profits and who have expectations from our employees. This comes from a media organization which caters to Wall Street and is run by one of the wealthiest people in the world. Underlying the entire Bloomberg article is disclosure based on a former employee at Zero Hedge. Traditionally we don’t reply to such media stories but in this case we’ll make an exception as there is a substantial amount of information Bloomberg has purposefully failed to add.

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Brussels will never be able to push through visa-free travel for nearly 80 million Turks. It’s simply not going to happen, not in a democratic way. Greece should be very afraid.

Turkey PM: Denying Visa-Free Travel Means Collapse Of EU Refugee Deal (DS)

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday evening that there are disappointments and the EU has un-kept promises in recent Turkish-EU relations and that Turkey will stop implementing the recent readmission agreement if the EU does not keep its word and grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens. Speaking to a group of journalist who accompanied his visit to Qatar on Thursday, Davutoglu said that Turkey is successfully implementing the EU-Turkey deal from March 18 and that the deal has ended illegal migration to Europe.

“Last October there were 6,800 illegal migrants passing over to Europe from Turkey every day. This figure went down to 3,000 in January after we started to implement the terms of the November deal with EU. We made a game changing move with the March 18 deal and this figure is now about 25 per day. Moreover, in April there have been some days on which no migrant passed to Europe,” Davutoglu said, and asked: “Have you heard about the death of a migrant in the Aegean Sea since April 4?” Asserting that Turkey will fulfill all EU criteria for visa-free travel on Monday, Davutoglu said that Ankara will stop implementing the readmission agreement if the EU does not grant visa-free travel.

“These two issues are linked to each other and are part of the deal with the EU. This is a test for everyone. We think that we have passed our test,” Davutoglu said, and added that it is now time for the EU to fulfill its obligations. “[The EU] promised to invest €1 billion for refuges until end of July. We will see whether they keep their promise or not. We have experienced disappointment in the past. We will react negatively if these experiences reoccur,” Davutoglu said, adding that in 2004 the EU had promised to lift restrictions on Turkish Cypriots if they vote for the Annan Plan, but it did not keep its promise afterward.

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Dec 052014
 
 December 5, 2014  Posted by at 8:29 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein President Roosevelt tours drought area, near Bismarck, North Dakota Aug 1936

OK, I don’t see a whole lot of comprehension out there, so let’s try and link the obvious: employment to shale to plummeting oil prices to the debt the shale industry was built on (and which is vanishing). I know, people look at the US jobs report today, and at the stock exchanges (Europe up some 2% across the board), and think salvation has landed on their doorstep, but the true story really is very different.

The EU markets are up because of US job numbers + the expectation that Draghi will launch a broad QE in January. But US jobs are far less sunny than meets the eye at first glance, and the Bundesbank will not all of a sudden do a 180º on ECB stimulus options. Ergo: a lot of European investors are set to lose a lot of money.

Anyone notice how quiet Angela Merkel has become about the QE debate? That’s because she doesn’t want to be caught stuck in a losing corner. Even if the Bundesbank would give in to Draghi, and chances are close to zero, there would be multiple court cases in Deutschland against that decision, and chances are slim the spend spend side would win them all. That’s the sort of quicksand an incumbent leader like Merkel wants to avoid at all cost.

But let’s leave Europe to cook itself, and its own goose too. What’s happening stateside is more important today. First, Marc Chandler has a good way of putting what I have said for as long as oil prices started testing ever deeper seas: the danger to the industry is not even so much falling prices, it’s financing both existing and future endeavors. Shale is a leveraged Ponzi, that’s its most urgent problem. Even if shale could break even at low prices, financiers and investors would still leave the building.

Both shale oil and gas have two big problems: 1) projects are based on highly optimistic returns, and 2) they are financed with very large and leveraged debt loads. With WTI prices now at $66 a barrel, and the first Bakken prices below $50 a barrel having been signaled, the entire industry starts resembling a house of cards, a game of dominoes and/or a pyramid shell (pick your favorite) more by the day. Chandler:

This Is Oil’s ‘Minsky Moment’

[..] Marc Chandler says the energy sector has just suffered its own Minsky moment. And while he doesn’t expect it to take down the stock market, the slide in oil could have a serious impact on the high-yield bond market. Minsky moment is a term coined by Pimco economist Paul McCulley in 1998, and it refers to a point when a period of rapid growth and risk-taking leads to a sudden turn lower and a crisis. Chandler, global head of markets strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, says that is precisely what is happening in crude oil.

“Many people a couple years ago, a year ago, were saying that oil prices could only go up – ‘we’re in peak oil’ – meaning that we’re running out of the stuff. So a lot of things were leveraged based on oil prices that can only go up. Sort of like house prices—’they can only go up.’ So what happened is, because people held this as a deep conviction, they leveraged up,” Chandler said.” [..] “The big risk now to our shale is not going to be that the price of oil drops so far that it’s not going to be profitable,” he said. “The weakness, the Achilles’ heel, is that they don’t get the cheap funding anymore.”

Even Nature magazine this week gave it a shot, and tried to lend scientific credibility to a certain view of shale. Here’s the editorial:

The Uncertain Dash For Gas

[..] The International Energy Agency projected in November that global production of shale gas would more than triple between 2012 and 2040, as countries such as China ramp up fracking of their own shale formations.

[..] Academic journals are filled with earnest projections about future energy dynamics, which usually turn out to be wildly inaccurate. Even worse, governments and companies wager billions of dollars on dubious bets. This matters because investment begets further investment. As the pipework and pumps go in, momentum builds. This is what economists call technology lock-in.

[..] Nature has obtained detailed US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts of production from the nation’s biggest shale-gas production sites. These forecasts matter because they feed into decisions on US energy policy made at the highest levels. Crucially, they are much higher than the best independent academic estimates. The conclusion is that the US government and much of the energy industry may be vastly overestimating how much natural gas the United States will produce in the coming decades.

[..] The EIA projects that production will rise by more than 50% over the next quarter of a century, and perhaps beyond, with shale formations supplying much of that increase. But such optimism contrasts with forecasts developed by a team of specialists at the University of Texas, which is analysing the geological conditions using data at much higher resolution than the EIA’s.

The Texas team projects that gas production from four of the most productive formations will peak in the coming years and then quickly decline. If that pattern holds for other formations that the team has not yet analysed, it could mean much less natural gas in the United States future.

And then an article:

Natural Gas: The Fracking Fallacy

When US President Barack Obama talks about the future, he foresees a thriving US economy fuelled to a large degree by vast amounts of natural gas pouring from domestic wells. “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” he declared in his 2012 State of the Union address. [..]

Over the next 20 years, US industry and electricity producers are expected to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in new plants that rely on natural gas. And billions more dollars are pouring into the construction of export facilities that will enable the United States to ship liquefied natural gas to Europe, Asia and South America.

All of those investments are based on the expectation that US gas production will climb for decades, in line with the official forecasts by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). As agency director Adam Sieminski put it last year: “For natural gas, the EIA has no doubt at all that production can continue to grow all the way out to 2040.”

But a careful examination of the assumptions behind such bullish forecasts suggests that they may be overly optimistic, in part because the government’s predictions rely on coarse-grained studies of major shale formations, or plays. Now, researchers are analysing those formations in much greater detail and are issuing more-conservative forecasts. They calculate that such formations have relatively small ‘sweet spots’ where it will be profitable to extract gas.

The results are “bad news”, says Tad Patzek, head of the University of Texas at Austin’s department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, and a member of the team that is conducting the in-depth analyses. With companies trying to extract shale gas as fast as possible and export significant quantities, he argues, “we’re setting ourselves up for a major fiasco”.

The scientific ring to it is commendable, but this misses quite a few things. They cite David Hughes, but leave out the work of Rune Likvern, without whom in my opinion no true – scientific or not – view of the shale industry is complete. But okay, they tried, in their own way, and their conclusions may be a bit softened, but they’re still miles apart from those of either the industry’s PR, or the EIA.

And then we move to the next link: that between shale and jobs. Because that’s where falling oil prices start to go from joy for the whole family to something entirely different.

What happens if the US shale industry crumbles under the weight of its own leverage? Most people will probably think: we’ll just start buying from that oversupplied world market again. But it’s not that easy, that leaves out one big issue. American jobs.

And we can take it straight from there to today’s hosannah heysannah BLS report. Which, however, has issues that don’t show up at the surface. Tyler Durden:

Full-Time Jobs Down 150K, Participation Rate Remains At 35 Year Lows

While the seasonally-adjusted headline Establishment Survey payroll print reported by the BLS moments ago may be indicative of an economy which the Fed will soon have to temper in an attempt to cool down, a closer read of the November payrolls report shows several other things that were not quite as rosy. First, the Household Survey was nowhere close to confirming the Establishment Survey data, suggesting jobs rose only by 4K from 147,283K to 147,287K, and furthermore, the breakdown was skewed fully in favor of Part-Time jobs, which rose by 77K while Full-Time jobs declined by 150K.

And then for those keeping tabs on the composition of the labor force, the same adverse trends indicated over the past 4 years have continued, with the participation rate remaining flat at 62.8%, essentially the lowest print since 1978, driven by a 69K worker increase in people not in the labor force.

So according to the BLS Household Survey, the US lost 150,000 jobs, while the Establishment Survey, prepared by the same BLS, shows a gain of 321,000 jobs. Yay! pARty! But we’ve been familiar with all the questions surrounding the jobs reports for a long time, so that’s not all that interesting anymore.

Still, when you see that again most of the jobs that were allegedly created are low paid service jobs, and that wages are not going anywhere, you have to wonder what is really happening. Well, this. The vast majority of new US jobs since 2008/9 have come from energy- and related industries, which makes them a dangerously endangered species now oil prices or down 40% and falling.

Tyler Durden ran the following on Wednesday, and I think this is very relevant today:

Jobs: Shale States vs Non-Shale States

Consider: lower oil prices unequivocally “make everyone better off”, Right? Wrong. First: new oil well permits collapse 40% in November; why is this an issue? Because since December 2007, or roughly the start of the global depression, shale oil states have added 1.36 million jobs while non-shale states have lost 424,000 jobs.

The ripple effects are everywhere. If you think about the role of oil in your life, it is not only the primary source of many of our fuels, but is also critical to our lubricants, chemicals, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and many other items we come into contact with every day. The industry supports almost 1.3 million jobs in manufacturing alone and is responsible for almost $1.2 trillion in annual gross domestic product. If you think about the law, accounting, and engineering firms that serve the industry, the pipe, drilling equipment, and other manufactured goods that it requires, and the large payrolls and their effects on consumer spending, you will begin to get a picture of the enormity of the industry.

Simply put, this means 9.3 million, or 93% of the 10 million jobs created since the recession/depression trough, are energy related.

The links above, jobs to shale to oil prices, are intended to give people an idea of what’s in store if oil prices stay where they are or fall more. It’s 4 to 12 for US shale, and its saving grace is nowhere to be seen. And if 93% of all new American jobs since the recession, even if they are burgerflipping ones, come from the oil and gas industry, what’s going to become of either of the BLS reports?

I’ve been saying for weeks that lower oil prices would not be a boon but a scourge for the US economy, for several different reasons, and this is a big one. The losses to investors, the restructurings and bankruptcies, and perhaps even the bailouts, are a very much interconnected and crosslinked other. There’s no resilience – left – in a system like this, it bets all on red, and that makes it terribly brittle.

Nov 202014
 
 November 20, 2014  Posted by at 10:10 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Colored drivers entrance, U.S. 1, NY Avenue, Washington, DC Jun 1940

It’s funny how things roll at times. When I wrote yesterday’s Making Money While The World Burns, and quoted Hugh Hendry, one of my heroes – well, close, he’s not Ali, but I love the man for his brain -, I hesitated, but thought his words were a great way to start a discussion on what people do when faced with certain conundrums. I certainly never meant to attack Hugh, though words can always be construed to mean things they were not meant to mean.

David Stockman picked up the essay (Jim Kunstler told me to use that word) and retitled it Making Money While The World Burns – The Troubling Case Of Hugh Hendry. Bless David for all the great work he does, and I would never even suggest he shouldn’t add that bit, that’s entirely his prerogative, but I myself would never call Hugh Hendry a ‘troubling case’.

I merely wanted to get a discussion going, and maybe to get people thinking about what they choose and why. Not to judge anyone, who am I to do that, but to get people to ask why they act the way they do, and what it is that makes them tick.

If I would want to judge anyone, it would be the politicians and central bankers who pretend they serve the public and then turn on a dime and screw that same public. Hugh Hendry doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not. However, I can still ask questions about why he chooses to do what he does, and use that as a mirror, for lack of a better term, to gauge where I stand, what I think, and put that out there for my readers.

But I’m not Hugh Hendry, I’m not a hedge-fund manager, and I don’t morally judge people or tell them what to do and what not. That would be like starting a religion, separating right from wrong for other people, and I have no design on that. I’ll admit I thought about that religion thing in the past, but that was because it seemed the greatest way to get girls, not because I want to tell anyone what to think or do. As things went, I started a band, and that worked just fine, thank you very much.

Short story long, Zero Hedge’s Tyler Durden today posted a video and text excerpts of Hugh explaining his mindset, and included snippets of my ‘essay’, saying “Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a different perspective on Hendry’s change of tack”. And I don’t even know that I do. I’m just less focused on the short term, and the potential financial profits involved, than Hugh is. As I said yesterday, I think about the 50% increase in homeless kids in the States and the 50%+ jobless rates in southern Europe, and wonder if that justifies the drive for monetary profits.

But that’s just me. And I find it curious enough that that moral divide is never being breached in all the stuff I read every single day. It seems so obvious to ask that question. But that’s not the same as saying I judge Hugh Hendry, or anyone else, for not bringing it up, let alone living up to any conclusions I draw from it for myself. If there’s anything we need around here, it’s independent minds and neurons, not identical replicas.

So, Hugh talks about how he was a ‘bear’ and saw the error of his ways and is now a bull. But that’s just in as far as his ‘duties’ towards his hedge-fund clients are concerned. It doesn’t say anything about his longer term expectations. Which, I venture, have not changed, but merely been relocated to more remote locations of his – pretty brilliant – mind. And the gist of my question is, I guess, how other people process that short vs longer term divergence, if they are smart enough to see what Hugh does.

What Hugh Hendry implies that he got ‘wrong’ is that a few years ago, he saw, and understood, what was happening, and acted on it. And it’s not that he misunderstood, but that his acting on it did not garner the short-term profits he claims he’s tasked with making – as a fund manager -.

Because the financial system – as Hugh knows – may be screwed three ways to Sunday, but central banks have prevented it from showing its – fatal – injuries, by dressing it in layer upon layer of gauge and band-aids made of and paid for by the real economy’s present and – especially – future wealth and labor.

In the end that means you’re making money off of other people’s misery, be it in the present or the future. And that is a stark choice. In my view. If an economy stops growing, the only profit opportunities left involve taking something away from someone. Obviously, there’s tons of people who’ll swear our economy is still growing, but they’ll find neither yours truly nor Hugh Hendry in their camp.

Here’s Tyler Durden’s piece, with Hugh Hendry video and partial transcript:

Hugh Hendry Live 1: “It Felt Like The Sun Only Rose To Humiliate Me”

In the first of three interviews with MoneyWeek’s Merryn Somerset Webb, Hugh Hendry, manager of the Eclectica Fund, talks about what it takes to be a good hedge fund manager – and how he learned to stop worrying and love central banks. Key excerpts (click link above for full transcript):

MSW: What makes a successful hedge-fund manager and whether you are, under that definition, a successful manager.

Hendry: I think I’ve always answered that question by relating back to the ability to conceive of a contentious posture. I think if I was to quote from Fight Club, I think there’s a famous saying “Would you rather…” my children would say ,“Would you rather upset God or have God just ignore you?” There’s a degree to which being a successful macro-manager is upsetting, not only God, but to the rest of the world, if you will. By being out there with the articulation of qualitatively intelligent argument, which just isn’t shared by the majority. But which can stand the test of time and come to actually define the future. That is what global macro is all about.

With regard to language the notion of ‘bullish’ and ‘bearish’, I think, does an injustice to the complexity of the arguments that are necessary to construct a global macro hedge fund. I think if I had my time again, I would have been saying that we’re actually, perhaps, guilty of the misconstruing of a bull market in equities, for what is actually the ongoing degradation in the soundness of the fiat monetary system. I think that’s what I was trying to say.

MSW: You had given in to a bull market that you had refused to accept previously.

Hendry: The last time I was really angry was late 2010-2011. Where the market, in its wisdom, had yet to configure the changing economic landscape, and it was perceiving that the economy in Europe and elsewhere was recovering. I thought that was just insane, that we weren’t capturing the kind of deflationary zeitgeist that was approaching. I have to say when I look back in the last three years it feels as if the sun only rose each day to humiliate me after that point.[..]

But the mea culpa, that I think is very necessary in that I found myself unable to forgive the Federal Reserve and the other central banks for, if you will, bailing out Wall Street from the excess of 2008. I just couldn’t get over it. I luxuriated in the polemics of Marc Faber and James Grant and Nassim Taleb, in our own country, Albert Edwards, et al. I luxuriated as they ranted and it was fine for them to rant. But I am charged with the responsibility of making money and not being some moral guardian and certainly not a moral curmudgeon. I had to get over that. So again, back to my infamous letter of last year.

That was cathartic for me to say “You know what? I get it.” I think if we’re going to try and explain the qualitative arguments behind why we are more receptive to the notion of not only left tails where markets can fall, but the right-hand tail of the expression, where markets can actually continue to rise if not to accelerate. [..] So I really feel very, very isolated from their view of the world. Arguably, we’re talking about the here and now and the future’s a long time. But in the future, I’m sure our paths can converge once more.

MSW: Why do you think that [macro funds] as whole is failing to make money? What’s going on there?

Hendry: I can reflect on my own difficulties, if you will. What I’ve found is that macro is distinguished, I believe, by superior risk control. It’s almost analogous to a disaster insurance programme. In 2008, all the good macro managers, they made you money. That’s what you pay them for. The world became profoundly unsettling and you cashed in your insurance policy. Today, I question the relevancy of that disaster insurance. In a world where the central banks seem to have your back, seem to be underwriting risks and global asset prices, do you require that intense scrutiny of risk?

MSW: So your basic point here is that if the central banks have your back, there’s no need to have the same kind of risk controls that you used to have.

Hendry: There is less need. Less need. I tell you, I was at a conference with some of the great and the good global macro managers in September in New York and I asked them all the question, “If the S&P is down 12% what do you do? Are you selling more or are you buying?” Guess what? They’re all buying. So the central banks have created a behavioural tic which is becoming self-reinforcing and I believe we saw another manifestation of that behaviour in October.

But Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a different perspective on Hendry’s change of tack…

Hendry, I think, is as bearish (or negative) about the – future of the – world as he has been for a long time, only he’s decided to see things from his fund manager point of view, and to ride the crest of the waves the central banks have tsunamied towards our shores. He’s chosen to make a buck off of them waves, even as he’s aware of the damage they’ll will do once they hit land. In the exact same way as a surfer who sees a tsunami as merely a set of great waves to ride on. And, no value judgment involved, but that’s not what I see.

He sees the world going to hell in a handbasket (and Hendry recognizes that very much, that’s not why he shifted gears from bear to bull) and his response is to grab as much money and wealth as he can (for his investors … ). [..]

Hugh Hendry sees the world in an extremely bearish way, he sees hell, the handbasket, brimstone and far worse. But he wants to profit – in name of his investors (?!) – from the very mechanism that drives the world there: the power central banks and governments have been allotted, and the way they use it to protect the interests of investors, banks, insurance companies and uber rich individuals, all at the expense of booting the 90% who make up the real world and the real economy, ever deeper into the mud.

Seeking to profit from that is a choice. Hendry makes it, and so do many others, even many inside the 90%. Who mistakenly dream they’ll be able to hold on to those profits (they’ll wake up yet, and wish they had before). The whole idea of scraping out what you can before the tsunami hits is not my thing.

I don’t think Hugh Hendry and I see the world through hugely different eyes at all. It’s just that since I don’t have uber rich clients I tell myself I need to make even richer, I have the liberty to wonder what Hendry’s choices mean for the bottom layers of society. And yes, I also think that societies cease to function if the poor get too poor. Not very Hobbesian or Darwinian, am I?

By all means, let’s keep the conversation going, and let everyone decide for him-her-self where (s)he stands. Hugh Hendry thinks in money terms, and I tend to feel that’s a waste of a brilliant mind. But that’s not a judgment. It’s merely a question. And a pretty well defined one at that: Is a brilliant mind better engaged making money for the rich or trying to alleviate the sorrows of the poor? I can’t answer that for you.