Archive for January 27th, 2012
JANUARY 23, 2012 BY IRA MEHLMAN
Oh no! It’s happened again. Alabama’s unemployment rate continues to plummet.
Ever since Alabama began implementing its immigration enforcement law, H.B. 56, in late September, the state’s unemployment rate has been dropping like a stone. In just the first month the law was in effect, unemployment in Alabama shrank from 9.8 percent of the workforce to 9.3 percent. And now the latest figures are in…and the news couldn’t be worse (for the Obama administration, the illegal alien lobby, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that is): Alabama’s unemployment rate checked in at 8.1 percent in December. That’s more than a 17 percent reduction since September.
No wonder the Department of Justice sued Alabama and its Civil Rights division continues to harass state agencies, even though the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed that all but a few provisions of the law could go into effect. Illegal aliens are responding to the law by leaving, which is not what the Obama administration or the illegal alien lobby want. And lots of jobs being vacated by illegal aliens are being filled by American workers, which is not exactly good news to cheap labor interests which have insisted that only illegal aliens would do those jobs.
Why the next thing you know, other states might get the idea that they too can reduce illegal immigration, tame unemployment, and cut costs by enacting similar policies. People might even start to wonder why the federal government isn’t doing it.
Courtesy of reszatonline, who brings us the following allegory by way of Tim Coldwell, we are happy to distill (no pun intended) all of modern economics and finance in a narrative that is 500 words long, and involved booze and broke alcoholics: in other words everyone should be able to understand the underlying message. And while the immediate application of this allegory is to explain events in Europe, it succeeds in capturing all the moving pieces of modern finance.
Helga is the proprietor of a bar.
She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar.
To solve this problem, she comes up with a new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later.
Helga keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers’ loans).
Word gets around about Helga’s “drink now, pay later” marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Helga’s bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in town.
By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands, Helga gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Helga’s gross sales volume increases massively.
A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Helga’s borrowing limit.
He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral!!!
At the bank’s corporate headquarters, expert traders figure a way to make huge commissions, and transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS.These “securities” then are bundled and traded on international securities markets.
Naive investors don’t really understand that the securities being sold to them as “AA” “Secured Bonds” really are debts of unemployed alcoholics.
Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb!!!, and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation’s leading brokerage houses.
One day, even though the bond prices still are climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Helga’s bar.
He so informs Helga.
Helga then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed alcoholics they cannot pay back their drinking debts.
Since Helga cannot fulfil her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy.
The bar closes and Helga’s 11 employees lose their jobs.
Overnight, DRINKBOND prices drop by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the bank’s liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community.
The suppliers of Helga’s bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms’ pension funds in the BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds.
Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers. Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multibillion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from the government.
The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-drinkers who have never been in Helga’s bar.
Everywhere you turn these days, someone is proclaiming that the economy is improving. Barack Obama is endlessly touting the “improvement” in the economy, the mainstream media is constantly talking about “the economic recovery” and an increasing number of Americans seem to be buying into this line of thinking. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe that the economy will improve over the next year, while only 17 percent of Americans believe that it will get worse. But is the economy actually improving? Not really. At the moment things are relatively stable. Some economic statistics are improving slightly and some continue to get even worse. However, it is very important to keep in mind that one of the biggest reasons why things have stabilized is because the federal government is pumping more than a trillion dollars a year into the economy that it does not have. The Obama administration is engaging in a debt binge unlike anything America has ever seen before, and yet many economic indicators are still in decline. So what is going to happen when the federal government stops injecting gigantic waves of borrowed money into the economy? That is a frightening thing to think about. The best efforts of our “leaders” in Washington D.C. are not accomplishing a whole lot. The Federal Reserve has pushed interest rates as low as they can go and the federal government is spending unprecedented amounts of money. But even with the federal government and the Federal Reserve pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor, the economy is still not improving much at all. Millions upon millions of Americans out there are anticipating some sort of a “great economic recovery”, and they are going to be bitterly disappointed.
But right now there are some “bright spots” in the economy, and you are bound to run into family and friends that will repeat to you the nonsense that they are hearing on the television about how the economy is recovering.
When they try to convince you that the economy is getting better, ask them these questions….
If the economy is getting better, then why did new home sales in the United States hit a brand new all-time record low during 2011?
If the economy is getting better, then why are there 6 million less jobs in America today than there were before the recession started?
If the economy is getting better, then why is the average duration of unemployment in this country close to an all-time record high?
If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of homeless female veterans more than doubled?
If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of Americans on food stamps increased by 3 million since this time last year and by more than 14 million since Barack Obama entered the White House?
If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of children living in poverty in America risen for four years in a row?
If the economy is getting better, then why is the percentage of Americans living in “extreme poverty” at an all-time high?
If the economy is getting better, then why is the Federal Housing Administration on the verge of a financial collapse?
If the economy is getting better, then why do only 23 percent of American companies plan to hire more employees in 2012?
If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of self-employed Americans fallen by more than 2 million since 2006?
If the economy is getting better, then why did an all-time record low percentage of U.S. teens have a job last summer?
If the economy is getting better, then why does median household income keep declining? Overall, median household income in the United States has declined by a total of 6.8% since December 2007 once you account for inflation.
If the economy is getting better, then why has the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by 10 million since 2006?
If the economy is getting better, then why is the average age of a vehicle in America now sitting at an all-time high?
If the economy is getting better, then why are 18 percent of all homes in the state of Florida currently sitting vacant?
If the economy is getting better, then why are 19 percent of all American men between the ages of 25 and 34 living with their parents?
If the economy is getting better, then why does the number of “long-term unemployed workers” stay so high? When Barack Obama first took office, the number of “long-term unemployed workers” in the United States was approximately 2.6 million. Today, that number is sitting at 5.6 million.
But there is some good news.
When Barack Obama first took office, an ounce of gold was going for about $850. Today, the price of an ounce of gold is over $1700.
The era of great prosperity that America has enjoyed for so long is coming to an end.
In fact, our long-term economic decline is about to accelerate.
So enjoy this “bubble of hope” while you can, because it won’t last long.
So let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst.
Just because the economy is about to go through hard times does not mean that you have to go through hard times personally.
Right now, you can decide to make an investment or start a business that will thrive in a tough economic environment.
Victory often goes to the most prepared. So don’t just sit there while the storm clouds gather. Instead, this should be a time when you are gathering resources and developing a gameplan for the coming economic chaos.
Those that choose to have blind faith in “the system” are going to be tremendously disappointed in the years ahead. Just because you have a job right now does not mean that it is always going to be there. Just because your stock portfolio is doing well right now does not mean that will always be the case.
Hopefully we all learned some important lessons from 2008. The global financial situation can turn on a dime. When markets fall apart, they tend to do so very rapidly.
Ultimately, the debate about whether the economy is improving or not is going to be ended very emphatically. When the next wave of the financial crisis hits, there will be no doubt about what direction things are going.
Don’t let the next wave catch you by surprise.
Now is the time to prepare.
European finance ministers and politicians have come to the conclusion that a deal, even one involving a credit event, is better than no deal at all. Thus it is increasingly likely the Greek Debt Wranglewill trigger credit default swaps.
Opposition to payouts on Greek credit-default swaps from European Union policy makers is softening as disputes over a voluntary debt exchange threaten to push the nation into default.
Any agreement between the Greek government and the Washington-based Institute of International Finance on debt writedowns will only bind 50 percent of investors in the 206 billion euros ($270 billion) of notes being negotiated, Barclays Capital estimates. Hedge funds may resist a deal, seeking to get paid in full or compensated from insurance contracts
“Politicians seem less concerned than before about CDS triggers,” said Michael Hampden-Turner, a credit strategist at Citigroup Inc. in London. “Having a payout on Greek CDS is probably better than the alternative: a loss in market faith of the product’s ability to provide a hedge against sovereign risk.”
Officials, including former European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, have insisted that a swaps trigger was unacceptable because traders would be encouraged to bet against indebted nations and worsen the crisis.
Greece said it may impose losses on investors who fail to support the debt restructuring by adding a so-called collective action clause, or CAC, into its bond documentation. That would force holdouts to accept the same terms as the majority.
Use of CACs would trigger a restructuring credit event and a payout of default swaps, according to rules from the International Swaps & Derivatives Association.
“A CAC is looking increasingly like the best option,” Citigroup’s Hampden-Turner said. “That route seems to tick a lot of boxes: they don’t have a bond default, the official sector gets treated differently than the private sector, and everybody has to participate in the exchange without anybody getting paid in full.”
While the ECB oppose any involuntary restructuring of Greek debt, policy makers such as Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager say they aren’t against a credit event.
The softer stance signals Greece is unlikely to get sufficient participation in a voluntary bond swap to make its debt burden sustainable.
The ECB is now alone in its opposition to a credit event. Then again, the ECB alone was against haircuts, soft defaults etc.
As late as May 7, 2011 former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet insisted there would be “no Greek debt restructuring”. I wrote about it in Trichet Reiterates Restructuring “Not on the Agenda”, Market Reiterates “Trichet is a Pompous Fool”.
Since then there have been two restructurings, and we are now headed for an involuntary restructuring that will trigger credit default swaps.
I suspect an effort will be made to placate the ECB somewhat so that the ECB does not take a loss on the 40 billion euros of Greek debt it stupidly bought, but otherwise, the ECB is about to have this crammed down their throats.
Portugal waits on deck.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock – Global Economic Analysis
The U.S. and European economies are firmly between various rocks and various hard places.
Having stipulated that “Forecasting Is Not Humanity’s Strength,” I will not make any foolish forecasts that will assuredly be proven wrong, but it is undoubtedly true that the U.S. and Europe are both entering a “crunch time” politically and financially.
In essence, both economies are between multiple rocks and multiple hard places. Eventually, this ceases to be an academic question and becomes one of actual financial impact on people via higher taxes, smaller checks, lower purchasing power, etc.
For example, the dismal failure of the Federal Reserve’s QE2 goosing of the economy has eroded its political support and thus its freedom of action. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has the look of someone who is realizing his own limits and is thus pondering retirement (a speculative forecast I made last year, i.e. that Ben wouldn’t last and would be forced out or quit).
Bernanke has more or less confessed that he 1) doesn’t understand why the economy isn’t responding “like it should” i.e. as described in textbooks, and 2) that he is tired of the political heat created by QE2 and he is dropping the burden of “saving” the U.S. economy.
He looks like a person who has lost his confidence and is going through the motions until he can figure out a way to exit the leadership stage gracefully. It is painfully obvious to all that his QE2 did nothing to heal the real economy while attracting global attention and ire. The whole project was lose-lose, with the only gain being “extend and pretend.”
Meanwhile, the Fed has to keep printing money to enable every debt holder has enough to service their debt next month, never mind next year. As frequent contributor Harun I. noted in a private email to me, the amount of leverage is so staggering that if “real money” (cash, gold, etc.) were applied to debt, a vast sum would still be left unpaid.
That’s a rock and a hard place, to be sure, as I have noted on the blog: if you print enough money to keep the Status Quo in “extend and pretend” mode, then you get inflation, which creates another set of difficulties and acts as a tax on the entire economy.
The loss of faith in Fed fixes is profound, part of the delegitimization process I have mentioned in previous Musings and blogs.
The same loss of faith is evident in Europe. The EU leadership has to cobble together another “extend and pretend” bailout of Greece, but nobody believes it will fix anything–that belief has been shattered. Once that faith is lost, then the value of “extend and pretend” is lost as well.
There is no way Greece can meet its debt obligations, even as its creditors clamor for it to sell off its assets. Why bother, if most of the debt will remain unpaid? The answer is to transfer the wealthof thenation to international banks, of course, but the Greek people may not acquiesce in their impoverishment.
The only other option is for bondholders to “take a haircut,” that is, get back less than 100% of their bond. The EU leaders are banking (pun intended) on some sort of “minor default” being the “fix” that puts the problem to rest, but they fail to grasp the subsequent loss of faith in the entire euro banking system.
If Greece’s bondholders are going to take a loss, then what’s stopping those holding Irish, Portuguese, Sanish or Italian debt from taking a loss as well?
The answer is of course nothing: there is no way to stop the “haircut” from happening in every cituation where the borrower is insolvent.
And as borrowers default, then so too do insolvent lenders.
This is the ultimate rock and hard place:the only way to clear the economy for future growth is to clear away the deadwood of uncollectible debts, yet clearing away the impaired debt will necessarily take down all the “too big to fail” banks on both continents, an action that is politically “impossible” as those banks have their hands on the throats of the governments in question.
As I have noted before, once faith in “extend and pretend” policies has been lost, then the next “extend and pretend” fix will no longer have its desired effect of calming the waters. Indeed, the failure of central institutions to grasp the nettle will be recognized as a failure that dooms the Status Quo.
The “solution” for three years has been “extend and pretend,” and now that faith in that muddle-through strategy has been lost, then there are only two choice open to policy makers:
1) enact a visibly transparent “extend and pretend” fix once again, basically pushing the crisis forward once agin for a few weeks or months, or 2) grasp the nettle and pursue a politically “impossible” real fix that wipes out uncollectible debt and insolvent borrowers and lenders.
Unfortunately for the Status Quo, the cat is out of the bag, so to speak; nobody believes minor policy tweaks or more bailouts will actually fix their economies. So the “extend and pretend” fixes that will be presented as meaningful will be increasingly recognized as artifice and propaganda.
This will feed the profound political disunity that already characterizes the politics of the U.S. and the E.U.
I would like to believe that the people are finally ready to lead their leadership to real solutions, but their insecurity, doubt and fear about their own slice of the pie seems to have frozen them in a weird warp: they recognize “extend and pretend” is futile, but they have no confidence in the “impossible” choices, either, as the risk is doing anything other than “extend and pretend” frighten them.
The way out of the dilemma would be a new political consensus forms in favor of writing off all bad debt and breaking the banks’ grasp on our collective throats. Right now that seems as “impossible,” but all sorts of other “impossible” things have happened in the past decade.
The one thing we know is truly impossible is that “extend and pretend” will actually fix anything.
As noted here before, a number of intersecting cycles suggest the end-game of “extend and pretend” will play out in 2012-2013.
Charles Hugh Smith – Of Two Minds
Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) — Stephen Roach, non-executive chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, talks about the U.S. economy and Federal Reserve monetary policy. Roach, talking with Tom Keene on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance Midday” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, also talks about China’s economic strategy and the prospects for Europe. (Source: Bloomberg)