Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Age-Old Game of Economic Musical Chairs: Gold Always Gets a Seat

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from GoldSilver:

As multiple contributors (weak-dollar policy, massive debt spending, inflation) to a coming gold price rise continue to fall into place, it is worth checking the rear-view mirror and remembering how well gold has already performed over the past 10-, 20-, and 47-year (since the US went off the gold standard) periods:

Gold has been a reliable store of value and solid investment-return engine not just for decades, not for centuries, but for millennia. By holding it now, you not only set yourself up for a coming spike in price, but you get the security and assurance of the inviolable truth that gold has been an investment stalwart for thousands of years hence. And yet, it’s still so adaptable:

As I’ve explained many times before, gold has historically performed very well in climates of rising inflation.When the cost of living heats up, it eats away at not only cash but also Treasury yields, making them less attractive as safe havens. Gold demand, then, has surged in response. This is the Fear Trade I talk so often about.

Making predictions is often a fool’s game, but I believe that after lying dormant for most of this decade, inflation could be gearing up for a resurgence on higher wages and borrowing costs. Now might be a good time to rebalance your gold holdings to ensure a 10 percent weighting.

Read More @ GoldSilver.com

The Fed’s Impossible Choice, In Three Charts

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by John Rubino, Dollar Collapse:

Critics of “New Age” monetary policy have been predicting that central banks would eventually run out of ways to trick people into borrowing money. There are at least three reasons to wonder if that time has finally come:

Wage inflation is accelerating
Normally, towards the end of a cycle companies have trouble finding enough workers to keep up with their rising sales. So they start paying new hires more generously. This ignites “wage inflation,” which is one of the signals central banks use to decide when to start raising interest rates. The following chart shows a big jump in wages in the second half of 2017. And that’s before all those $1,000 bonuses that companies have lately been handing out in response to lower corporate taxes. So it’s a safe bet that wage inflation will accelerate during the first half of 2018.

The conclusion: It’s time for higher interest rates.

The financial markets are flaking out
The past week was one for the record books, as bonds (both junk and sovereign) and stocks tanked pretty much everywhere while exotic volatility-based funds imploded. It was bad in the US but worse in Asia, where major Chinese markets fell by nearly 10% — an absolutely epic decline for a single week.

Normally (i.e., since the 1990s) this kind of sharp market break would lead the world’s central banks to cut interest rates and buy financial assets with newly-created currency. Why? Because after engineering the greatest debt binge in human history, the monetary authorities suspect that even a garden-variety 20% drop in equity prices might destabilize the whole system, and so can’t allow that to happen.

The conclusion: Central banks have to cut rates and ramp up asset purchases, and quickly, before things spin out of control.

So – as their critics predicted – central banks are in a box of their own making. If they don’t raise rates inflation will start to run wild, but if they don’t cut rates the financial markets might collapse, threatening the world as we know it.

There’s not enough ammo in any event
Another reason why central banks raise rates is to gain the ability to turn around and cut rates to counter the next downturn.

But in this cycle central banks were so traumatized by the near-death experience of the Great Recession that they hesitated to raise rates even as the recovery stretched into its eighth year and inflation started to revive. The Fed, in fact, is among the small handful of central banks that have raised rates at all. And as the next chart illustrates, it’s only done a little. Note that in the previous two cycles, the Fed Funds rate rose to more than 5%, giving the Fed the ability to cut rates aggressively to stimulate new borrowing. But – if the recent stock and bond market turmoil signals an end to this cycle – today’s Fed can only cut a couple of percentage points before hitting zero, which won’t make much of a dent in the angst that normally dominates the markets’ psyche in downturns.

Read More @ DollarCollapse.com

What Crushed Stocks?

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by Wolf Richter, Wolf Street:

Treasury yields don’t matter – until they do. Mortgage rates jump.

On Friday at around 1:40 p.m., during whiplash-inducing market moves, the S&P 500 index was down 1.9%, bringing the total loss for the week to 8.3%, which would have been the biggest weekly loss since November 2008, after the Lehman bankruptcy.

But dip-buyers jumped in courageously and saved the day. The S&P 500 ended up 1.5%, bringing to the total loss for the week to 5.2%, the worst week since, well, the selloff in January 2016.

Everyone has their own reasons why stocks plunged last week. Some blamed algorithmic trading. Others blamed the short-volatility financial complex that blew up. More specifically, Jim Cramer blamed â€śa group of complete morons” who traded in this space. Others blamed the stratospheric valuations of stocks that had been rallying for eight years with only a few dimples in between, and it’s simply time to unwind some of those gains.

Whatever the factors might have been, rising bond yields certainly had something to do with it. They tend to hit stocks, eventually.

Last week, prices of short-dated Treasuries edged down and prices of long-dated Treasuries edged down, and their yields edged up, but there was some turmoil in the middle, with some interesting consequences.

The three-month Treasury yield rose to 1.55% on Friday, the highest since September 11, 2008. Investors are beginning to price in a rate hike in March:

Read More @ WolfStreet.com

Oh Look! It’s a Billion Wasted!

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by Karl Denninger, Market Ticker:

Wow, man, it’s misdirection again — on purpose!

A new audit about a Pentagon agency losing hundreds of millions of dollars is reported by Politico as an “exclusive.” While that’s technically correct, a government agency losing or wasting or misplacing millions, billions and even trillions of dollars (this is not hyperbole, folks) is nothing new.

Politico’s report is a reminder of what bloated, unaccountable government gets you.

Uh huh.

By the way, the report is true.  And while it should enrage you that our government treats money so cavalierly, given that you pay taxes, and they are running a huge deficit anyway, it is an utter misdirection, and an intentional one, to keep your eye off the ball when it comes to where the structural problems are in government spending that, if not addressed now, will cause the collapse of our economy and markets.

That’s in health care.

Most problems that have some level of complexity to them can be “80% solved” quite easily.  The last 20% is really hard, but it’s also where all of the attention is focused when it comes to the budget.  That above-referenced article, which managed to hit the top line of Faux Snooz, is just one example.  It focuses your attention on a very real, but mathematically immaterial, part of the problem — and one that is both diffuse and common enough that actually fixing all of it will be quite hard.

As I’ve pointed out in my article “The Low-Hanging Fruit” there is a very simple fix for a $400 billion+ waste and scam in government spending that takes place every single year.  It also takes place in the private sector as well, and likely wastes at least as much there, so we’re talking close to a trillion dollars — each and every year.

It’s not diffuse, and thus it’s easy to address should people care to because it can be fixed with one policy change aimed in one direction instead of having to spread a lot of effort and attention all over the millions of government workers and thousands of agencies.

When have you ever seen a Faux Snooz — or CNN for that matter — article on that point?  Never, and the reason is simple: It would actually put a monstrous dent in the deficit, it would do it immediately, it’s focused and easy to do and yet it would also stop a huge scam that is not only making a lot of people very rich it is also killing and maiming a sizable number of Americans each and every year.

This makes it unacceptable to actually do unless you, the American public, rise up and demand it, being willing to enforce that demand through any means necessary.  Why?  Because if it’s done then all the people who profit mightily from that near-trillion dollar annual expense no longer steal that money.

Read More @ Market-Ticker.org

Three Crazy Things We Now Accept as “Normal”

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by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds:

How can central banks “retrain” participants while maintaining their extreme policies of stimulus?

Human habituate very easily to new circumstances, even extreme ones. What we accept as “normal” now may have been considered bizarre, extreme or unstable a few short years ago.

Three economic examples come to mind:

1. Near-zero interest rates. If someone had announced to a room of economists and financial journalists in 2006 that interest rates would be near-zero for the foreseeable future, few would have considered it possible or healthy. Yet now the Federal Reserve and other central banks have kept interest rates/bond yields near-zero for almost nine years.

The Fed has raised rates a mere .75% in three cautious baby-steps, clearly fearful of collapsing the “recovery.”

What would happen if mortgages returned to their previously “normal” level around 7% from the current 4%? What would happen to auto sales if people with average credit had to pay more than 0% or 1% for a auto loan?

Those in charge of setting rates and yields are clearly fearful that “normalized” interest rates would kill the recovery and the stock bubble.

2. Massive money-creation hasn’t generated inflation. In classic economics, massive money-printing (injecting trillions of dollars, yuan, yen and euros into the financial system) would be expected to spark inflation.

As many of us have observed, “official” inflation of less than 2% does not align with “real-world” inflation in big-ticket items such as rent, healthcare and college tuition/fees. A more realistic inflation rate is 7%-8% annually, especially in the higher-cost regions of the US.

But setting that aside, there is a puzzling asymmetry between low official inflation and the unprecedented expansion of money supply, debt and monetary stimulus (credit and liquidity). To date, most of this new money appears to be inflating assets rather than the real world. But can this asymmetry continue for another 9 years?

3. Stock markets are soaring but sales and profits are stagnant. Everyone knows central banks are still pumping billions of dollars per month into the financial system, and this (coupled with central bank purchases of stocks and bonds) has been pushing stocks sharply higher for the past 9 years, with only a few hiccups along the way.

This is pushing valuations out of alignment with traditional metrics of valuing assets such as sales and profits–a process known as “price discovery.” In essence, traders and investors have habituated to central banks driving private-sector markets higher, not because the assets are generating more value or profits. but simply as a function of centralized money creation and asset purchases.

All of these extremes generate mal-investment, diminishing returns and perverse incentives for ramping up unproductive and risky speculation, leverage and debt. Yet the central banks have trapped themselves in this risky trajectory because they’ve pushed the accelerator to the floorboard for 9 years. Any extreme held in place for 9 years has long slipped from “temporary” to permanent.

Participants have now habituated fully to central banks extreme stimulus of financial markets, and in a sense they’ve forgotten how to price assets based on real-world private-sector measures.

How can central banks “retrain” participants while maintaining their extreme policies of stimulus? The only possible answer is: they can’t.

Read More @ OfTwoMinds.com

Bridgewater Bets Big against Largest Banks in Spain & Italy

by Don Quijones, Wolf Street:

World’s largest hedge fund puts down $13 billion to profit from trouble in Europe. 

A lot of people have lost a lot of money in the recent financial market convulsions, but there’s still plenty of money to be made by betting against the companies, as the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, showed this week. It bet heavily against four of Spain’s biggest corporate hitters. The fund took up short positions worth €1.2 billion, or 0.5% of total shares at Banco Santander, BBVA, TelefĂłnica and Iberdrola.

The gamble has already reaped dividends. Shares of Iberdrola, Spain’s biggest utilities company, Telefonica, Spain’s struggling telecoms giant, and Santander, Spain’s biggest bank ended the week around 5% lower, while BBVA tumbled 4%. Bridgewater placed its best against the two large Spanish banks last week, just as they presented annual results that largely disappointed the market. Since then, both banks have lost close to 10% of their market cap.

These short bets are part of the firm’s $13.1 billion in shorts against 44 European companies, according to EU regulatory filings, reported by Bloomberg. Among the notable short positions, in addition to the Spanish banks, are Total, Airbus, BNP Paribas, ING, Intesa Sanpaolo, Eni, Sanofi, and Axa.

At the beginning of the week, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, made light of the recent rout in global stock markets saying in a blog post on LinkedIn that “this is classic late-cycle behavior,” adding: “These big declines are just minor corrections in the scope of things . . . There is a lot of cash on the side to buy on the break, and what comes next will be most important.”

Investors will nonetheless be wondering why the world’s biggest hedge fund is shorting Spain’s two biggest banks, whose shares had been on an 18-month roll. Until last week that is. As we warned in December, 2018 could prove to be a stressful year for Spanish banks, for three reasons:

Painful new rules. The introduction in January of a new accounting rule, known as IFRS 9, will force banks in Europe to provision for souring loans much sooner than at present. One direct result will be that banks will have to hold more capital on their books, and that will have a detrimental impact on their profits. BBVA calculated that as a result Spanish banks will have to increase their provisions by 21% — around €5.2 billion — to comply with the new requirements. This amount may be manageable for the industry as a whole, though some lenders, in particular the smaller banks, will suffer more stress than others.

Potential indigestion from Popular take-over. The decline and fall last year of Spain’s sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular, served as a reminder (a painful one for the bank’s 300,000 shareholders) that Spain’s banking system is far from fixed, despite the tens of billions of euros thrown at it. Now, the attention shifts to just how well Santander will be able to digest the collapsed bank it bought for €1

Exposure to high-risk markets. As the IMF warned in a report last year, BBVA’s largest international exposures by financial assets are concentrated in the UK, the US, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Chile. At least four of those six markets — Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and the UK — are likely to face headwinds in 2018. In the US, Santander’s subsidiary, Santander Consumer USA, is dangerously exposed to the subprime auto-loan sector, which is already taking a toll on global profits. So great is both banks’ exposure to Latin America’s two largest economies — Mexico (which accounted for 40% of BBVA’s global profits) and Brazil (which provides 26% of Santander’s) — that if things deteriorate in either or both of these key emerging markets, the spillover effects will be felt almost immediately in Spain’s banking system.

There could also be another reason for Bridgewater’s bet: the continued systemic weakness of the Eurozone’s periphery.

After all, Spain is not the only Eurozone economy that Dalio has massively shorted. In the last three months his fund has tripled its short bets against Italy, the Eurozone’s third largest economy and arguably weakest link, to €2.45 billion, up from €900 million in October. A total of 18 firms have been targeted including Italy’s main utility, Enel, the national oil and gas company Eni and the pan-European insurer Generali. Like Telefonica and Iberdrola, Enel and Eni are among the largest beneficiaries of the ECB’s massive corporate bond purchase program which could come to an end as early as September this year. The firm’s funding costs could rise sharply thereafter.

Most of Dalio’s short bets in Italy are targeting its still fragile financial sector. His biggest short is against Italy’s second largest bank by assets, Intesa Sanpaolo, which is widely viewed as Italy’s most stable bank. In fact, it was the only bank in the country that was big enough and in sound enough health to absorb the two ailing mid-size Veneto based banks Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca in June 2017.

The bank will win the battle, CEO Carlo Messina confidently predicted in a Bloomberg Television interview on Thursday. The bank has seen its shares slump 4% over the last three days but they are still 45% higher than they were this time last year.

“When [Dalio and I] had a conversation in October, he was short Intesa Sanpaolo and Italy,” Messina, who leads Italy’s biggest bank by market value, said in the interview. “I told him he could lose money on our position and in the end I think he lost money. Again, increasing the position, I think he’s losing money again.”

Read More @ WolfStreet.com

Petro-Yuan Futures Launch in March: Ignore the Hype, It’s a Good Thing

by Mish Shedlock, Mish Talk:

After a 25-year wait, China is about to trade Yuan Oil Futures. Expect to see and hear a lot of hype over this event.

Bloomberg reports China Ends 25-Year Wait as Yuan Oil Futures Set to Start Trading.

In a challenge to the world’s dollar-denominated oil benchmarks Brent and West Texas Intermediate, China will list local-currency crude futures in Shanghai on March 26, according to the nation’s securities regulator. The start of trading, open to foreigners, will mark the end of years of delays and setbacks since China’s first attempt at a domestic contract in 1993.

If the futures are embraced by overseas investors and become a benchmark for global oil transactions, China’s hoping the yuan could threaten the dominance of the greenback in international trade. But skeptics say that will never happen as long as the currency is controlled by the central government, and while international traders may agree to settle contracts converted into yuan, they’ll continue to price the oil in dollars.

China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest oil importer last year, buying about 8.43 million barrels a day to feed demand from government-run as well as independent refiners. The nation has also been hoarding million of barrels for its Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Rather than buying how much ever crude they want, private companies have to adhere to government-issues quotas for their purchases. And this year such allocations expanded.

The move toward creating a so-called “petro-yuan” will be a “huge story,” Adam Levinson, the founder and chief investment officer of Graticule Asset Management Asia, said in October. Besides serving as a hedging tool for Chinese companies, the contract will aid the broader government agenda of increasing the use of the yuan in trade settlement, he said.

End of the Dollar?

Don’t be silly. For starters, it is meaningless what oil is priced in. It makes no difference, outside of something illiquid like Yap Island stones, what any commodity is priced in. Conversion is instantaneous.

Reserve Currency Math

It does matter where countries hold their reserves. China wants the yuan to play a bigger role in international trade. That’s easy enough to achieve, at least on paper. All China has to do is run huge trade deficits and other countries will hold yuan as a mathematical necessity.

The corollary is that as long as the US runs huge trade deficits, it a mathematical necessity that the trade surplus countries accumulate dollar-denominated assets, typically US treasuries.

End of the Petro-Dollar?

Is this end of the petro-dollar in the Mideast? Actually, yes. But the Yuan has nothing to do with it.

US Petroleum Imports

Read More @ MishTalk.com