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A Week in the Life of a Topsy-Turvy Wildly Whirling World

A Week in the Life of a Topsy-Turvy Wildly Whirling World 

By Germán Torreblanca (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s review this past devilishly whacky week to see if we can divine the way the world is turning and why the markets are churning. It was 2019’s worst week in stocks and, well, just about everything economic all across this crazily spinning planet. Volatility lifted its head back out of the water like Loch Ness’s monster while the citizenry took flight to treasury safe havens, bringing treasury yields down again to the five-year’s lowest point of the year. North Korea’s Rocketman returned to his rocketry, and the Chinese threw up their hands and ran as far from Mar-a-Lago as they could … or maybe they just threw up from too much chocolate cake.

The China syndrome is back

Most notably all over the world, bad news finally moved back to just being bad news, even as it arrived in cloudburst after cloudburst. Gold popped as money dropped and China flopped. Chinese exports fell 20%, outstripping the worst prediction four fold. The central bank of the billions of people of China mainlined major yuan jolts into the Xi dynasty’s tiring economy, and yet the Sino stock market fell off the mountain, taking a full panda bear plunge in one week. Apparently the nouveau riche Chinese ghost-city dwellers are wising up to all this easing and just realized talk of more of the same as far as the eye can see simply means the economy is finished more than it means refreshed hope waits on some distant horizon. 

Trump talked and China walked. The best boast Trump could biggly bluster from his tweet blaster was that the stock market would rise again ifChina would only deal; China chose, instead, to cancel Chairman Xi’s second coming at Mar-a-Lago. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Super Mario Draghi’s Day of Reckoning Has Arrived

Super Mario Draghi’s Day of Reckoning Has Arrived

“Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.” — MARIO DRAGHI JULY 26TH 2012

No quote better defines Mario Draghi’s seven-plus years as the President of the European Central Bank than that quote. Draghi has thrown literally everything at the deflationary spiral the Euro-zone is in to no avail.

What has been enough has been nothing more than a holding pattern. 

And after more than six years of the market believing Draghi’s words, after all of the alphabet soup programs — ESM, LTRO, TLTRO, OMB, ZOMG, BBQSAUCE — Draghi finally made chumps out of traders yesterday.

Draghi reversed himself after December’s overly hawkish statement in grand fashion but none dare call it capitulation. For years he has patched together a flawed euro papering over cracks with enough liquidity spackle to hide the deepest cracks. 

The Ponzi scheme needs to be maintained just a little while longer.

He’s not alone. In fact, all the major central banks have been working in concert since the day they broke the gold bull market back in September 2011, when the Swiss National Bank pegged the Franc to the euro which began the era of coordinated central bank policy.

And since 2013’s Taper Tantrum when then FOMC-Chair Ben Bernanke  
timidly announced a future without QE the markets have consistently tore at their resolve to normalize monetary policy.

Because when you paper over reality you don’t fix the underlying problems. The losses are still there, hidden in plain sight, held at mark-to-model prices, on central bank balance sheets. 

Ben retired and Janet took over. She held the fort for nearly her entire term, refusing to raise rates while Draghi sent rates negative alongside Japan’s Kuroda. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ECB Warns Slowdown Isn’t Temporary: Draghi Announces Bold Stimulus Plan

ECB Warns Slowdown Isn’t Temporary: Draghi Announces Bold Stimulus Plan

Mario Draghi surprised even the doves with his bold new stimulus plan. It won’t help one iota.

The Wall Street Journal reports ECB Reverses Course With New Stimulus Measures.

The European Central Bank made a major policy reversal Thursday, unveiling plans for fresh measures to stimulate the eurozone’s faltering economy less than three months after phasing out a €2.6 trillion ($2.9 trillion) bond-buying program, making it the first rich-country central bank to ease policy in response to the global slowdown.

The ECB said it would hold interest rates at their current levels at least through the end of this year—months longer than previously signaled—and announced plans for a fresh batch of cheap long-term loans for banks. The first loans will be launched in September, each with a maturity of two years.

Despite the new stimulus, ECB President Mario Draghi said that the risks to the economy remain prevalent, though the likelihood of a recession is very low. Thursday’s decision was unanimous, he said at a press conference. “Given the complexity of the package, I think this is a very positive sign,” he added. The ECB also slashed is forecast for gross domestic product growth this year to 1.1% from 1.7% in December. It lowered its inflation projection to 1.2% from 1.6%, further below the ECB’s target of just under 2%.

Still, the ECB refrained from more extreme measures such as restarting its bond-buying program or cutting its deposit rate further from minus 0.4%. These options weren’t discussed, Mr. Draghi said. “In a dark room, you move with tiny steps,” he said.

Bold New Plans

Please consider ECB’s Draghi Surprised Colleagues with Bold Stimulus Plans.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi caught even dovish rate-setters off guard by pushing on Thursday for unexpectedly generous stimulus after forecasts showed a large drop in economic growth, four sources familiar with the discussion said.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Weekly Commentary: Dudley on Debt and MMT

Weekly Commentary: Dudley on Debt and MMT

December’s market instability and resulting Fed capitulation to the marketplace continue to reverberate. At this point, markets basically assume the Fed is well into the process of terminating policy normalization. Only a couple of months since completing its almost $3.0 TN stimulus program, markets now expect the ECB to move forward with some type of additional stimulus measures (likely akin to its long-term refinancing operations/LTRO). There’s even talk that the Bank of Japan could, once again, ramp up its interminable “money printing” operations (BOJ balance sheet $5.0 TN… and counting). Manic global markets have briskly moved way beyond a simple Fed “pause.”

There was the Thursday Reuters article (Howard Schneider and Jonathan Spicer): “A Fed Pivot, Born of Volatility, Missteps, and New Economic Reality: The Federal Reserve’s promise in January to be ‘patient’ about further interest rate hikes, putting a three-year-old process of policy tightening on hold, calmed markets after weeks of turmoil that wiped out trillions of dollars of household wealth. But interviews with more than half a dozen policymakers and others close to the process suggest it also marked a more fundamental shift that could define Chairman Jerome Powell’s tenure as the point where the Fed first fully embraced a world of stubbornly weak inflation, perennially slower growth and permanently lower interest rates.”

And then Friday from the Financial Times (Sam Fleming): “Slow-inflation Conundrum Prompts Rethink at the Federal Reserve: Ten years into the recovery and with unemployment near half-century lows, the Federal Reserve’s traditional models suggest inflation should be surging. Instead, officials are grappling with unexpectedly tepid price growth, prompting some to rethink their strategy for steering the US economy.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Blain: It Feels Like A Liquidity Storm Is Coming Soon

Blain: It Feels Like A Liquidity Storm Is Coming Soon

I note with some delight Bernie Sanders plans to stand for US President. One of my US chums sent me the story of the Half-a-Bernie sign propped up against a wall. Someone had cut it neatly in two and left the wooden handle affixed to the remaining half. Attached was a note: “Dear Bernie; you had a sign and I didn’t, so I took half. I’m sure you understand.” 

I did feel something of a market judder yesterday – just a moment where it felt like all the negativity was on the verge of swamping markets. Whether is the cumulative effect of US rate path expectations (Fed today), China Trade Wars, Trump vs Europe, (ECB tomorrow), Brexit, and all the rest.. or the UK mid-term holidays, the whole market feels thin and rudderless.

At least Wal-Mart surprised to the upside! One of my top stock technical commentators is my old buddy Steve Previs of Mint who calls it “complacent.” That’s never a good thing. His charts are telling him to look for a “corrective C wave” but for now he’s patient as “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) continues to drive the current trend.

I am fortunate enough to work with some very bright folk here at Shard. Yesterday we were shooting the breeze on the current market uncertainties, threats and fears. We came to the conclusion we’ll know the moment we hit the Reefs of Crisis when we hear the crashing wail of market liquidity vanishing. What’s that sound – it’s the Macro Liquidity Storm! Coming to a market near you. Maybe Very Soon!

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How the Euro Enabled Europe’s Debt Bubbles

How the Euro Enabled Europe’s Debt Bubbles

It’s the twentieth anniversary of the euro’s existence, and far from being celebrated, it is being blamed for many — if not all — of the Eurozone’s ills. 

However, the euro cannot be blamed for the monetary and policy failures of the ECB, national central banks and politicians. It is just a fiat currency, like all the others, only with a different provenance. All fiat currencies owe their function as a medium of exchange from the faith its users have in it. But unlike other currencies in their respective jurisdictions, the euro has become a talisman for monetary and economic failures in the European Union.

The Birth of the Euro

To swap a number of existing currencies for a wholly new currency requires the users to accept that the purchasing powers of the old will be transferred to the new. This was not going to be a certainty, and the greatest reservations would come from the people of Germany. Germans saved, and therefore risked the security of their deposits in a new money and monetary system. They were reassured by the presence of the hard-money men in the Bundesbank, who had a mission to protect the mark’s characteristics against the weaknesses that would almost certainly be transferred into the new euro from more inflationary currencies.

These anxieties were assuaged to a degree by establishing the ECB in Frankfurt, close to the watchful eye of the Bundesbank. The other nations were sold the project as bringing greater monetary stability than offered by their individual currencies and the reduction of cross-border transaction costs. Borrowers in formally inflationary currencies also relished the prospect of lower interest rates.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The ECB’s Quantitative Easing was a Failure–Here is What it Actually Did

The main reason why the ECB quantitative easing program has failed is that it started from a wrong diagnosis of the eurozone’s problem. That the European problem was a demand and liquidity issue, not due to years of excess.

The ECB had been receiving tremendous pressure from banks and governments to implement a similar program to the US’ quantitative easing, forgetting that the eurozone had been under a chain of government stimuli since 2009 and that the problem of the euro-zone was not liquidity, but an interventionist model.

The day that the ECB launched its quantitative easing program, excess liquidity stood at 125 billion euro. Since then it has ballooned to 1.8 trillion euro.

“Only” after 2.6 trillion euro purchase program and ultra-low rates.

Eurozone PMIs are atrocious. The euro-zone index falls from 52.7 in November to 51.3 in December, well below the consensus forecast of 52.8. More importantly, France’s PMI plummeted from 54.2 in November to a 34-month low of 49.3.

Unemployment in the euro-zone, at 8%, is double that of the US and comparable economies. Youth unemployment rate remains at 15%.

Economic surprise has plummeted as the ECB balance sheet reached 41% of GDP (vs 21% of the Fed).

More than 900 billion euro of non-performing loans remain in the banking system, which keeps a trillion euro timebomb in its balance sheets (read). A figure that represents 5.1% of total loans compared to 1.5% in the US or Japan.

Deficit spending is rising. Government debt to GDP has risen to 86.8%.

The number of zombie companies -those that cannot pay interest expenses with operating profits- has soared to more than 9% of all large quoted firms, according to the BIS.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Tragedy Of The Euro

The Tragedy Of The Euro

After two decades, the euro’s minders look set to drive the Eurozone into deep trouble. December was the last month of the ECB’s monthly purchases of government debt. A softening global economy will increase government deficits unexpectedly. The consequence will be a new cycle of sharply rising bond yields for the weakest Eurozone members, and systemically destabilising losses in the bond portfolios owned by Eurozone banks

The blame-game

It’s the twentieth anniversary of the euro’s existence, and far from being celebrated it is being blamed for many, if not all of the Eurozone’s ills.

However, the euro cannot be blamed for the monetary and policy failures of the ECB, national central banks and politicians. It is just a fiat currency, like all the others, only with a different provenance. All fiat currencies owe their function as a medium of exchange from the faith its users have in it. But unlike other currencies in their respective jurisdictions, the euro has become a talisman for monetary and economic failures in the European Union.

Recognise that, and we have a chance of understanding why the Eurozone has its troubles and why there are mounting risks of a new Eurozone systemic crisis. These troubles will not be resolved by replacing the euro with one of its founding components, or, indeed, a whole new fiat-money construct. It is here to stay, because it is not in the users’ interest to ditch it.

As is so often the case, the motivation for blaming the euro for some or all the Eurozone’s troubles is to shift responsibility from the real culprits, which are the institutions that created and manage it. This article briefly summarises the key points in the history of the euro project and notes how the mistakes of the past are being repeated without the safety-net of the ECB’s asset purchases.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Italy’s New Government Eats Its Words, Joins Bank Bailout Club

Italy’s New Government Eats Its Words, Joins Bank Bailout Club

Well, that didn’t take long. And whatever happened to the Eurozone’s new bail-in rule?

Italy’s government, in its eighth month in power, has already bailed out a bankrupt bank, mid-sized Banca Carige, with public funds. If approved by European Commission and the ECB, it will be the fourth Italian bank rescue in just over two years. As Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore points out, Italy’s populist government has adopted virtually the exact same playbook to save Carige that was used by its predecessor in the previous three resolutions:

The draft of the new Carige decree is a carbon copy of the one used by the Gentiloni Government for the bailouts of Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), BPVI and Veneto Banca — identical in every detail from the rules on state guarantees to the mechanisms adopted…

It took just eight minutes for Italy’s coalition partners, Five Star and the League, to renege on their flagship promise never to bailout a bank, reports Bloomberg. The new decree will allow the government to guarantee Carige bonds up to a maximum value of €3 billion, making it easier for the lender to retain access to the funding market. The government also wants the option, if necessary, to recapitalize the bank by injecting as much as €1 billion into its coffers despite having lambasted the previous government for doing the exact same thing with MPS.

It’s not yet clear whether the proposed rescue of Carige will contravene EU state-aid rules, which are supposed to impose strict conditions on the “precautionary recapitalization” envisaged by the government. Carige is already under the administration of ECB-appointed administrators after failing to agree to a €400 million capital increase at the end of last year. So if there are any issues it should be easy for European Commission or the ECB to stop the bailout dead in its tracks.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We Are Entering The “Quantitative Failure” Narrative

For a decade, the world brushed off any concerns about soaring global debt under the rug for a simple reason: between the Fed, the ECB and the BOJ, there was always a buyer of last resort, providing an implicit or, increasingly explicit backstop to bond prices, in the process creating the biggest asset bubble in history as investors seeking return were forced to buy first fixed income securities and then equities and other, even riskier securities.

However, as BofA’s Barnaby Martin is the latest to point out, “early 2019 will be uncharted territory for the market” because after years of central bank purchases crowding investors into risky assets, this dynamic will now reverse. As Zero Hedge readers have observed on countless occasions, the yearly growth of central bank balance sheets is now turning negative as shown in the following chart.

The upshot of this, in Martin’s view, is that markets will continue to experience more “corrections” than normal, leading to bigger and fatter trading ranges for credit spreads in Europe this year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Eurozone Is in a Danger Zone

The Eurozone Is in a Danger Zone

GettyImages-468044606.jpg

It is easy to conclude the EU, and the Eurozone in particular, is a financial and systemic time-bomb waiting to happen. Most commentary has focused on problems that are routinely patched over, such as Greece, Italy, or the impending rescue of Deutsche Bank. This is a mistake. The European Central Bank and the EU machine are adept in dealing with issues of this sort, mostly by brazening them out, while buying everything off. As Mario Draghi famously said, “whatever it takes.”

There is a precondition for this legerdemain to work. Money must continue to flow into the financial system faster than the demand for it expands, because the maintenance of asset values is the key. And the ECB has done just that, with negative deposit rates and its €2.5 trillion asset purchase program. But that program ends this month, making it the likely turning point, whereby it all starts to go wrong.

Most of the ECB’s money has been spent on government bonds for a secondary reason, and that is to ensure Eurozone governments remain in the euro system. Profligate politicians in the Mediterranean nations are soon disabused of their desires to return to their old currencies. Just imagine the interest rates the Italians would have to pay in lira on their €2.85 trillion of government debt, given a private sector GDP tax base of only €840 billion, just one third of that government debt.

It never takes newly-elected Italian politicians long to understand why they must remain in the euro system, and that the ECB will guarantee to keep interest rates significantly lower than they would otherwise be. Yet the ECB is now giving up its asset purchases, so won’t be buying Italian debt or any other for that matter. The rigging of the Eurozone’s sovereign debt market is at a turning point.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Ugly Truth

The Ugly Truth

For years critics of central bank policy have been dismissed as negative nellies, but the ugly truth is staring us all in the face: Market advances remain a game of artificial liquidity and central bank jawboning and not organic growth and now the jig is up. As I’ve been saying for a long time: There is zero evidence that markets can make or sustain new highs without some sort of intervention on the side of central banks. None. Zero. Zilch.

And don’t think this is hyperbole on my part, I will present the evidence of course.

In March 2009 markets bottomed on the expansion of QE1 which was introduced following the initial QE1 announcement in November 2008. Every major correction since then has been met with major central bank intervention. QE2, Twist, QE3 and so on.

When market tumbled in 2015 and 2016 global central banks embarked on the largest combined intervention effort in history to the tune of over $5 trillion between 2016 and 2017 giving us a grand total of over $15 trillion in central bank balance sheet courtesy FOMC, ECB and BOJ:

When did global central bank balance sheets peak? Early 2018. When did global markets peak? January 2018.

And don’t think the Fed was not still active in the jawboning business despite QE3 ending. After all their official language remained “accommodative”  and their hike schedule was the slowest in history, cautious and tinkering not to upset markets.

With tax cuts coming into the US economy in early 2018 along with record buybacks markets at first ignored the beginning of QT (quantitative tightening), but then it all changed.

And guess what changed? 2 things.

In September 2018, for the first time in 10 years, the FOMC removed one little word from its policy stance: “accommodative” and The Fed increased its QT program. When did US markets peak? September 2018.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ECB Takes “Unprecedented” Step Of Putting Italy’s Banca Carige In Administration

Investors who had hoped that the resolution of Italy’s budget showdown with the EU would mark an end to a volatile period for Italian bonds and stocks were disappointed Wednesday when fears about an Italian banking crisis reemerged after the ECB appointed a slate of temporary administrators to oversee troubled Italian lender Banca Carige after nearly its entire board resigned.

Earlier on Wednesday, Consob, Italy’s market watchdog, said it had suspended trading in shares of Banca Carige for the session following a request by the bank, according to Reuters.

European bank stocks dropped while bonds rallied as fears about softer-than-expected factory orders across the Continent were compounded by the developments in Italy (which proved an exception to the trend of weak PMIs).

Banca

Fabio Innocenzi, Pietro Modiano and Raffaele Lener have been appointed as temporary administrators while Gianluca Brancadoro, Andrea Guaccero and Alessandro Zanotti have appointed as members of the surveillance committee.

The “unprecedented” move – as Bloomberg called it – follows a failed attempt to raise some 400 million euros last month after the Malacalza family, the billionaire shareholders who control nearly one-third of Carige, abstained from a vote on a turnaround plan, which sought to fill the capital hole left by the fraud scandal.

Carige

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Weekly Commentary: The Perils of Inflationism

Weekly Commentary: The Perils of Inflationism

December 13 – Financial Times (Chris Giles and Claire Jones): “When the European Central Bank switches off its money-printing press at the turn of this year and stops buying fresh assets, it will mark the end of a decade-long global experiment in how to stave off economic meltdowns. Quantitative easing, the policy that aims to boost spending and inflation by creating electronic money and pumping it into the economy by buying assets such as government bonds, is on the verge of becoming quantitative tightening. With the Federal Reserve slowly reducing its stocks of Treasuries, central banks are no longer in the buying business. Globally, only the Bank of Japan is left as a leading central bank that has not formally called time on expanding its stock of asset purchases. Arguments over how, or even if, the trillions spent by policymakers helped the global economy recover will rage for years to come. But as central banks step back, the initial view is that the purchases worked — whether through encouraging investors to hold more risky assets, easing constraints on borrowing, providing finance so governments could run larger budget deficits or just showing that central banks still had an answer to weak demand and low inflation.”
At this point, the prevailing view holds that QE “worked.” Moreover, central banks are seen ready and willing to call upon “money printing” operations as need. The great virtue of this policy course, many believe, is that there is essentially no limit to the scope and duration of “QE infinity.” The FT quoted Mario Draghi: “[QE] is permanent and may be usable in contingencies that the governing council will assess in its independence.” Melvyn Krauss, from the Hoover Institution, captured conventional thinking: “No one willingly walks into a room from which there is no exit. Because QE proved temporary, because it worked and because it has ended, it is likely to be used again.”…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Gold – A Perfect Storm For 2019

Gold – A Perfect Storm For 2019

This article is an overview of the principal factors likely to drive the gold price in 2019. It looks at the global factors that have developed in 2018 for both gold and the dollar, how geopolitics are likely to evolve, the economic outlook and how it is worsened for the dollar by President Trump’s tariff war against China, the availability and likely demand for bullion, and the technical position in paper markets. Taken together, the outlook is bullish for gold.

2018 reprise

For gold bulls, 2018 was disappointing. From 11 December 2017, when gold made a significant bottom against the dollar at $1243, it has ended virtually unchanged today, after being 4.2% up. Gold had to struggle against a rising dollar, whose trade-weighted index rose a net 3.7% over the same period, and as much as 9.4% from its mid-February low.

Dollar strength has been driven less by trade imbalances and more by interest rate differentials. A speculating bank for its own book or for a hedge fund client can borrow 3-month Euro Libor at minus0.354% and invest it in 3-month US Treasury bills at 2.36%, for a round trip of over 2.7%. Gear this up ten times or more, either on a bank’s capital, or through reverse repos for annualised returns of over 27%. To this can be added the currency gain, which at times has added enough to overall returns for an unhedged geared position to double the investment.

Not that these forex returns have been guaranteed, but you get the picture. The ECB and the Bank of Japan have been frozen into inactivity, reluctant to raise rates to correct this imbalance, and the punters have known it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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