Archive for the ‘research’ Category
Submitted by James Bianco of Bianco Research
• The Wall Street Journal – Fed Proposes Tool to Drain Extra Cash
The Federal Reserve on Monday proposed selling interest-bearing term deposits to banks, a move the U.S. central bank would make when it decides to drain some of the liquidity it pumped into the economy during the financial crisis. The new facility is intended to help ensure that the Fed can implement an exit strategy before a banking system awash with Fed money triggers inflation. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has described term deposits as “roughly analogous to the certificates of deposit that banks offer to their customers.” Under the plan, the Fed would issue the term deposits to banks, potentially at several maturities up to one year. That would encourage banks to park reserves at the Fed rather than lending them out, taking money out of the lending stream.The central bank said the proposal “has no implications for monetary policy decisions in the near term.” “The Federal Reserve has addressed the financial market turmoil of the past two years in part by greatly expanding its balance sheet and by supplying an unprecedented volume of reserves to the banking system,” it said. “Term deposits could be part of the Federal Reserve’s tool kit to drain reserves, if necessary, and thus support the implementation of monetary policy.” Michael Feroli, an economist at J.P. Morgan Chase, said “it’s another step forward in the exit-strategy infrastructure, but it’s been well flagged in advance, so it’s not a surprise.” When Fed officials decide to tighten credit, they would likely use the term-deposits program ahead of — or in conjunction with — adjusting their traditional policy lever, the target for the federal funds interest rate at which banks lend to each other overnight. The Fed also said Monday that its balance sheet rose slightly to $2.2 trillion in the week ending Dec. 23. The Fed’s total portfolio of loans and securities has more than doubled since the beginning of the financial crisis. As part of its efforts to fight the downturn, the central bank is buying $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, a program it says will end in March. The Fed now holds $910.43 billion in mortgage-backed securities, it said Monday.
• Bloomberg.com – Fed Proposes Term-Deposit Program to Drain Reserves
The Federal Reserve today proposed a program to sell term deposits to banks to help mop up some of the $1 trillion in excess reserves in the U.S. banking system. The plan, subject to a 30-day comment period, “has no implications for monetary policy decisions in the near term,” the central bank said in a statement released in Washington. Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is preparing tools and strategies to shrink or neutralize the inflationary impact from the biggest monetary expansion in U.S. history. Central bankers are also conducting tests of reverse repurchase agreements and discussing the possibility of asset sales. Term deposits may help the central bank “assert operational control over the federal funds rate” once officials decide to lift the overnight bank lending rate from the current range of zero to 0.25 percent, said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP LLC in Jersey City, New Jersey. Excess cash “would be locked up” rather than put downward pressure on the federal funds rate, he said.The Fed won’t begin raising interest rates until the third quarter of 2010, according to the median estimate of 62 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News in the first week of December.
• The Financial Times – Fed to offer term deposits to banks
The US Federal Reserve plans to offer term deposits to banks as part of its “exit strategy” from the exceptionally loose monetary policy used to fight the recession. In a consultation paper released on Monday the Fed said it planned to change its rules so that it could pay interest on money locked up at the central bank for a defined period. The Fed added that the well-flagged rule change – designed to allow it more influence over the $1,100bn in excess reserves held by banks – was part of “prudent planning. . . and has no implications for monetary policy decisions in the near term”. It is one of a number of measures that has been outlined over the past few months by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Fed, as an option to drain liquidity from the financial system in a manner that protects the economic recovery while heading off the threat of inflation.
• The Federal Reserve – Notice of proposed rulemaking; request for public comment.
The Board is requesting public comment on proposed amendments to Regulation D, Reserve Requirements of Depository Institutions, to authorize the establishment of term deposits. Term deposits are intended to facilitate the conduct of monetary policy by providing a tool for managing the aggregate quantity of reserve balances. Institutions eligible to receive earnings on their balances in accounts at Federal Reserve Banks (”eligible institutions”) could hold term deposits and receive earnings at a rate that would not exceed the general level of short-term interest rates. Term deposits would be separate and distinct from those maintained in an institution’s master account at a Reserve Bank (”master account”) as well as from those maintained in an excess balance account. Term deposits would not satisfy required reserve balances or contractual clearing balances and would not be available to clear payments or to cover daylight or overnight overdrafts. The proposal also would make minor amendments to the posting rules for intraday debits and credits to master accounts as set forth in the Board’s Policy on Payment System Risk to address transactions associated with term deposits.
We believe the proposal of this new tool signals the Federal Reserve is still flailing around trying to look busy so everyone is assured they have a plan. The fact is they have no plan and are still throwing everything on the wall to see what sticks. From the November 4 FOMC minutes:
Participants expressed a range of views about how the Committee might use its various tools in combination to foster most effectively its dual objectives of maximum employment and price stability. As part of the Committee’s strategy for eventual exit from the period of extraordinary policy accommodation, several participants thought that asset sales could be a useful tool to reduce the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet and lower the level of reserve balances, either prior to or concurrently with increasing the policy rate. In their view, such sales would help reinforce the effectiveness of paying interest on excess reserves as an instrument for firming policy at the appropriate time and would help quicken the restoration of a balance sheet composition in which Treasury securities were the predominant asset. Other participants had reservations about asset sales–especially in advance of a decision to raise policy interest rates–and noted that such sales might elicit sharp increases in longer-term interest rates that could undermine attainment of the Committee’s goals. Furthermore, they believed that other reserve management tools such as reverse RPs and term deposits would likely be sufficient to implement an appropriate exit strategy and that assets could be allowed to run off over time, reflecting prepayments and the maturation of issues. Participants agreed to continue to evaluate various potential policy-implementation tools and the possible combinations and sequences in which they might be used. They also agreed that it would be important to develop communication approaches for clearly explaining to the public the use of these tools and the Committee’s exit strategy more broadly.
The Federal Reserve first hinted at term deposits almost two months ago, although exactly what they were talking about was left vague until now.
Remember that the Federal Reserve has to withdraw over a trillion dollars of excess liquidity. The easiest way to do this is to sell hundreds of billions of MBS, Treasuries and agencies. As the bold highlighted passage above implies, they are scared to death of doing this, so they propose complicated schemes to withdraw liquidity like reverse repos and now term deposits.
We have argued that these schemes will not work. They cannot be done in the sizes necessary or enough to even matter. The Federal Reserve could possibly drain tens of billions of dollars via these schemes, but collectively that will amount to a rounding error when the goal is to withdraw over a trillion in excess reserves.
The Federal Reserve does not want to admit defeat, so they continue pursuing these strategies that will not make a difference. We believe they also do it to “look busy” as they are taking measurements and notes as to how to withdraw all the liquidity they have pumped in. They think this will give the market comfort that someone is on the case and that inflation expectations will not get out of control. The market is not buying this. Inflation expectations, s measured by TIPS inflation breakeven rates, are going vertical.
As to term deposits, the Federal Reserve is proposing an illiquid short term instrument for banks to invest in. Banks would buy these instruments and “lock up” the excess reserves they now have. This would have the same effect as draining excess reverses. The maturities of these instruments would be as long as one year.
It is unclear if there will be a secondary market for these instruments, and if so, how liquid it will be.
Without a secondary market, buyers of these instruments face huge reinvestment risk. The future course of short term interest rates is arguably to the most uncertain it has been in decades. Will the Federal Reserve stay near zero until 2012 or will they be forced to raise rates in the first half of 2010? Given all this uncertainty, who wants to lock up money in something that cannot be sold before maturity? This is especially true given the Federal Reserve’s statement that the “maximum-allowable rate for each auction of term deposits would be no higher than the general level of short- term interest rates.”
The general level of short-term interest rates is set on known instruments that have generations of history and active secondary markets. If the Federal Reserve wants to introduce a new, and wholly unknown instrument with an uncertain secondary market and offer no interest rate premium, then we cannot see how this will work beyond a token amount after some arm twisting to get them sold. The Federal Reserve will have to offer a premium for uncertainty and illiquidy to make this fly in any major way, something they said they will not do.
Complicated Is Simple
The Federal Reserve owns 80% of AIG. With each passing day it looks like the Federal Reserve is adopting AIG Financial Product’s business practices. That is, when faced with a financial problem, they create complicated tools (like CDS). When critics says these new products will not work, tell them they do not know what they are talking about and create even more complicated tools to dazzle everyone. Once the tools are so complicated that no one understands them, you will be hailed as an expert with no peer. You might even be named TIME’s Person of the Year.
Submitted by Leo Kolivakis, publisher of Pension Pulse.
Henny Sender of the FT reports that top hedge funds bet on big rise in yields:
recent rise in long-term US interest rates comes as good news for
several leading hedge fund managers, including John Paulson, who have
positioned their trading books to benefit from higher yields on US
Mr Paulson, who
made big gains earlier this decade by betting against the subprime
mortgage market and whose firm, Paulson & Co, manages $33bn, has
said he believes that government stimulus efforts would inevitably lead
to higher inflation and a corresponding rise in rates.
be difficult for the government to withdraw the economic stimulus,” Mr
Paulson said in a speech. “An increase in the monetary base leads to an
increase in the money supply, which leads to inflation.”
prices fall as yields rise, and Mr Paulson told the Financial Times
last week that he has been hoping to benefit in the Treasury market by
buying options that would become profitable if rates headed higher.
TPG-Axon’s Dinakar Singh has been making similar options trades,
according to a person familiar with the matter.
the hedge fund manager, has pursued a related strategy, hoping to
benefit from a bigger difference between short-term and long-term
interest rates, known as a steeper yield curve, a person familiar with
his trades said.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which hit a
crisis low of 2.055 per cent last year, has moved from 3.2 per cent
last month to 3.75 per cent on Tuesday.
Hedge fund managers,
however, have been hesitant to engage in short sales of Treasury bonds
to profit from the rising yields – and falling prices – because of the
Federal Reserve’s heavy involvement in the market. This has led some to
buy options – dubbed “high strike receivers” – that would enable them
to profit from sharply higher Treasury yields, hedge fund managers say.
These trades, which are relatively cheap to execute because they are so
out of the money, are based on the thesis that yields could hit 7 or 8
“If they are right, and the world ends, they will make
a fortune,” said one fund manager who is sceptical of the idea. “If
they are wrong, they haven’t lost much.”
Some traders are
cautious because many peers lost large sums betting that rates would
rise in Japan in the 1990s – as yields fell to less than half a
percentage point. The trade was termed the “black widow” because it left so many victims.
understood the extent of deflation and economic weakness in Japan,”
said Dino Kos of Portales Partners, a research consultancy, who was
then a Fed official. “More money was lost on that trade than on any
other single trade. Everyone piled in when rates were at 3 per cent and
then at 2.5 per cent and then at 2 per cent.”
is it time to place big bets on rising yields? I could easily see a
backup in yields in the near term as economic reports surprise to the
upside, but I don’t believe that bonds have entered a long-term secular
bear market. I think the hedgies are right, best to play interest rate
directional calls though options.
Also, given the increase in
liability-driven investing by pension funds worried about their funding
status, there is an upper cap on bond yields. I don’t know what the
exact magic number is, but at a certain level (say 7%), you’ll have
pensions scambling to lock in rates. Bond bears tend to ignore this
when predicting doom and gloom on bonds. All they do is focus on the
“pending collapse” of the US dollar, which won’t happen .
Study Finds That Of All Factors Determining The 'Bailoutability' Of Crappy Banks, Ties To The Federal Reserve Are Most Critical
Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and George Washington are not only rolling in their graves, they are dancing the macarena. A new study by the UMich School of Business has found what everyone has known since the crisis began, if not centuries prior: that the biggest, crappiest banks were guaranteed to get more bailout funding the more political ties they had (and more kickbacks they had offered). Is this sufficient to claim that capitalism in its purest sense has been corrupted beyond repair, courtesy of political intervention and constant pandering? Probably not, but it sure makes a damn good argument. In any case, the data is sufficient for all bears to start keeping a track of which banks are increasing their lobbying efforts and funding: those are the ones where the greatest weakness is likely still to be uncovered (if it hasn’t already). And while the political relationship probably is not a big surprise to any realistic readers, another finding of the study makes a solid case for abolition of the “apolitical” Federal Reserve:
A new study by Ross professors Ran Duchin and Denis Sosyura found that
banks with connections to members of congressional finance committees
and banks whose executives served on Federal Reserve boards were more
likely to receive funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the
federal government’s program to purchase assets and equity from
financial institutions to strengthen its financial sector.
The unsupervised Federal Reserve gets to make or break banks, presumably under the gun of its one and only master, Goldman Sachs, which has already destroyed its major historical competitors: Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. This is a sufficient condition to not only audit the central bank but to immediately seek its abolition, and also to commence anti-trust proceedings against Goldman Sachs which is not only a monopoly, but by extension has veto power over the very regulatory mechanism that is supposed to keep it “fair and honest.” The system is truly broken.
More findings from the study:
Further, their research shows that TARP investment amounts were
positively related to banks’ political contributions and lobbying
expenditures, and that, overall, the effect of political influence was
strongest for poorly performing banks.
Can someone reminds us what the core premise of capitalism is again, and why we pretend to live in anything other than a hard core socialist society?
One of the professors of the study had this to say:
“Our results show that political connections play an important role in
a firm’s access to capital. The effects of political ties on federal capital investment
are strongest for companies with weaker fundamentals, lower liquidity
and poorer performance — which suggests that political ties shift
capital allocation towards underperforming institutions.”
The US financial system now need a new four letter acronym: everyone knows TBTF. We hereby annoint the Too Blatantly Briby To Fail (TB2TF) category of financial institutions. We posit that in 5 years there will be two banks in the former group: JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, while every single other bank will make up the latter.
Among the specific data findings:
The researchers used four variables to measure political influence: 1)
seats held by bank executives on the board of directors at any of the
12 Federal Reserve banks or their branches (the Federal Reserve is
involved in the initial review of CPP applications from the majority of
qualified banks); 2) banks with headquarters located in the district of
a U.S. House member serving on the Congressional Committee on Financial
Services or its subcommittees on Financial Institutions and Capital
Markets (which played a major role in the development of TARP and its
amendments); 3) banks’ campaign contributions to congressional
candidates; and 4) banks’ lobbying expenditures.
They found that a board seat at a Federal Reserve Bank was
associated with a 31 percent increase in the likelihood of receiving
CPP funds, while a bank’s connection to a House member on key finance
committees was associated with a 26 percent increase, controlling for
other bank characteristics such as size and various financial
The last data point is truly troubling: while it is one thing to pander to corrupt politicians, at least when their transgressions are made public they can and will be booted out. Yet what checks and balances exist to punish current and former Fed staffers who endorse near-bankrupt companies, in self-evident conflict of interest acts, for enhanced survival? As the Fed is accountable to nothing and nobody, save Goldman Sachs, one can argue that Goldman decides the fate of the very core of the US financial system: which firms get the thumbs up and down treatment. This is an unbelievalbe travesty of both the constitutional and the tenets of capitalism and must be rectified immediately. It certainly helps that the president, being a Constitutional law professor, will surely get right on it.
“Our findings also suggest that qualified financial institutions were
more likely to receive an investment from CPP if they were bigger and
had lower earnings and lower capital,” said Duchin, U-M assistant
professor of finance. “This is consistent with an investment strategy
seeking to support systematically important institutions experiencing
If this study’s finding are confirmed and repeated independently by other research teams, it is safe to say that any pretense America has to being an efficient capitalism system (where those who can no longer compete, disappear) can be used to wipe the nation’s collective backside. Between this, and a choice of US dollars and Treasuries, Cottonelle is starting to see some serious competition.
h/t Geoffrey Batt
Good morning, worker drones: This Week in Mayhem
by Project Mayhem
Project Censored releases top censored news stories of 2009, Market Skeptics highlights catastrophic fall in global food production, gold bounces off $1100, Copenhagen succeeds in building global governance framework, Pakistan and Yemen sink further into chaos..
LAST WEEK IN MAYHEM
Project Censored releases list of 25 censored news stories of the past year
* 1. US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street
* 2. US Schools are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s
* 3. Toxic Waste Behind Somali Pirates
* 4. Nuclear Waste Pools in North Carolina
* 5. Europe Blocks US Toxic Products
* 6. Lobbyists Buy Congress
* 7. Obama’s Military Appointments Have Corrupt Past
* 8. Bailed out Banks and America’s Wealthiest Cheat IRS Out of Billions
* 9. US Arms Used for War Crimes in Gaza
* 10. Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate
* 11. Private Corporations Profit from the Occupation of Palestine
* 12. Mysterious Death of Mike Connell—Karl Rove’s Election Thief
* 13. Katrina’s Hidden Race War
* 14. Congress Invested in Defense Contracts
* 15. World Bank’s Carbon Trade Fiasco
2010 Food Crisis for Dummies
The countries that make up two thirds of the world’s agricultural output are experiencing drought conditions.
The following article is HIGHLY recommended for anyone trading in the commodities futures markets or interested in possible future outcomes in 2010.
“If you read any economic, financial, or political analysis for 2010 that doesn’t mention the food shortage looming next year, throw it in the trash, as it is worthless. There is overwhelming, undeniable evidence that the world will run out of food next year. When this happens, the resulting triple digit food inflation will lead panicking central banks around the world to dump their foreign reserves to appreciate their currencies and lower the cost of food imports, causing the collapse of the dollar, the treasury market, derivative markets, and the global financial system. The US will experience economic disintegration.
So far the crisis has been driven by the slow and steady increase in defaults on mortgages and other loans. This is about to change. What will drive the financial crisis in 2010 will be panic about food supplies and the dollar’s plunging value. Things will start moving fast.”
Gold bounces off $1100
Gold has bounced off $1100, as expected, but the question is whether this level will hold. This is almost impossible to predict…what we do know is that gold is going much higher intermediate-term. Short-term, we could see pricing pressures on gold until we get a new leg down in the economic crisis and/or war in Central Asia. Things are heating up around the world, particularly in Yemen and Pakistan. Regardless, we expect a hard floor for the gold price in the range of $1000-1050. We will watch carefully for the next two business weeks leading into Jan 1st, as this will involve year-end mark-to-market for gold on many balance sheets so expect volatility. In terms of the next year (2010) we are expecting a dollar crisis so it would be wise to own gold under such circumstances.
Copenhagen Treaty yields start of Global Governance
The Copenhagen treaty was a success despite the massive scientific scandal; the global bankster-gangsters got precisely what they wanted. The objective was to establish the framework for a world government, which is often called ‘global governance’ in policy planning circles. The seeds of this were successfully planted. There were two main accomplishments at Copenhagen: 1) agreement on a global transaction tax on GDP, paid to the World Bank and 2) agreement on preliminary funding for global governance, conservatively $100bn by 2020 but we believe this number will be much much higher (probably in trillions).
“In 2004, it was less than $300 million. But in 2005, the trade really started to soar, ending the year with $10.8 billion-worth of transactions. A year later, in 2006, the “carbon” market had grown to $31 billion. In 2007, again it more than doubled its turnover, to $64 billion. Last year, it did it again, reaching a colossal $126 billion. By 2020, some estimates suggest the annual value will reach $2 trillion.”
“This is the biggest heist in history. As they poured carbon over snow-covered Denmark from their gas-guzzling jets, world leaders were congratulating themselves on securing a deal which will make their backers and financiers a trillion pounds a year. These riches will come from buying and selling permits, the so-called ‘carbon credits’ which allow industry and electricity generators in developed countries to emit carbon dioxide.
The frenzied negotiations we have just seen were never about ‘saving the planet’. They were always about money.”
Copenhagen accord keeps Big Carbon in business
“The part played at Copenhagen by all the tree-huggers, abetted by the BBC and their media allies, was to keep hysteria over warming at fever pitch while the politicians haggled over the real prize, to keep the Kyoto system in place.
The only tree they were concerned with hugging was the money tree and all the vast political apparatus that now supports it, allowing governments to tax and regulate us into handing over ever more of our money, largely without realising it, every time we drive a car, fly in a plane, pay our electricity bill or carry out any of a vast range of activities that involve the emission of CO2. ”
Saudis rain missiles down on Yemen
Saudi warplanes rain ’1,011 missiles’ on Yemen
“Houthi fighters say Saudi warplanes have fired some 1,011 missiles on the borderline with Yemen where the Shia population is already under heavy state-led and US-aided bombardment. “
US air raids kill 63 civilians in Yemen
“Yemen’s Houthi fighters say scores of civilians, including many children, have been killed in US air-raids in the southeast of the war-stricken Arab country.”
Pakistan on brink ; Obama feigns surprise
Internally displaced Pakistani women and children, aka alQueda
Pakistan continues to deteriorate, as we have been expected since the election of Obama. There is definitely a new war brewing in the region. The most likely conflict is either an event justifying going into Pakistan, or an event justifying going into Iran. In either case, doing so would land us in deep deep trouble, and would escalate into a regional war. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country, with ballistic and cruise missiles, and Iran has advanced Russian weaponry. War in either country would be a big mistake with catastrophic consequences for the world, but our fearless leaders do not seem to care about the people of the world or their lives. Regardless, the CIA and ISI are doing an excellent job of destabilizing Pakistan, which seems to be the policy objectiive.
Pakistan political crisis deepens
“THE political crisis in Pakistan has deepened after the Government’s anti-corruption agency sought a warrant for the arrest of the country’s Interior Minister.”
Symptom of a Deeper Malady Pakistan’s Refugee Disaster
In the meantime, with the winter months fast approaching, hundreds of thousands of “unintegrated” refugees who do not find more durable shelter, even as military sweeps continue, could face exposure and starvation. Some aid groups are demanding that the United States pressure Pakistan to respect international humanitarian law and allow independent access to the refugees.
THIS WEEK IN MAYHEM
Not much happening this week due to the Christmas holiday. Tuesday brings us the GDP number and existing home sales, Wednesday is new home sales, and Thursday is durable goods orders and jobless claims. This week we are watching Yemen and Pakistan.
Have a great week and Merry Christmas
Project Mayhem Research (PMR) is a DC/Baltimore-based grassroots think tank dedicated to exposing corruption worldwide. PMR is affiliated with Zerohedge.com, a popular and growing anti-corruption site, through contribution of free articles for the public. Topics include the politics of war and weapons systems, unexpected applications of cybernetics, the growing international surveillance state, global warming ‘deindustrialization’ economics, broad systemic international corruption , in-depth policy analysis of studies from bank and military funded research groups, genetic analysis and surveillance of pandemic influenza, corruption in the international gold market, the power structure and history of the global elite, and analysis of their political objectives expressed through monopolistic international finance capital (read: powerful banks) between now and 2050.
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David Rosenberg And A Few Good Economic Observations: "Can You Handle The Truth?" His 2010 "Outlook"
Courtesy of David Rosenberg of Gluskin-Sheff
It’s that time of the year when ‘sell-side’ research departments publish their Year-Ahead Reports (as I once did in the not-too-distant past); as do all the financial magazines.
I realized after countless emails and phone conversations (in that order) that there is a very high expectation that I publish one too. I honestly have no intention of publishing a specific set of forecasts in my current role as the Chief Economist and Strategist for Gluskin Sheff for public consumption — the granularity of my recommendations is reserved for our Investment team and our client base. Be that as it may, I am more than happy to comment on what I see as an emerging consensus and my general view on the direction of the economy and the markets in the coming year without getting into too much detail or numerical forecasts, which are the domain of the ‘sell-side’ macro teams globally.
At the outset, let it be known that when I read everyone else’s year-ahead prognostications, all I can think of is, “where do I store this stuff for a year so I can look back and say ‘That was so wrong!’.” It’s not that the reports are always bullish every year; it is that they seem so contrived. And, as I mentioned in the December 10th edition of Breakfast with Dave, this year, probably like most years, there seems to be a remarkable level of agreement. Based on my reading, here is what I conclude the consensus views are as we head into 2010:
- Muted recovery, but positive growth, for sure! No risk of a ‘double dip’.
- Equity markets up!
- A barbell strategy of domestic multinational blue chips and emerging market equities.
The U.S. dollar is…neutral, but we did locate more bulls than bears (so much for the ‘carry trade’ thesis).
- Positive on commodities for the most part.
- Concerned about government balance sheets, and therefore…
- …Bearish on long term government bonds because they are the ‘competition’ and, after all, who would tie their money up for 10 years at 3.5% when you can lose 22% in stocks? And, therefore…
- …Bullish on spread product (as long as it’s not long-term). And, therefore…
- …Really comfortable with high yield (just for the coupon and the view that default rates will come down).
- Certain that volatility will not be an impediment.
- The Fed will begin to raise rates in the second half of the year, but that this will have no impact since they will still be low.
So here we are with a glorious opportunity to reintroduce Bob Farrell’s Rule 8: “When all forecasts and experts agree, something else is going to happen.”
That being said, these economists and strategists, many of whom I know, are smart guys (and gals) and they are human. To ‘talk your book’ is human; to have the courage to ‘buck the consensus’ is divine. I too am human; I also like to feel that I have courage of my convictions; and I too have a “book” (of sorts — it’s called reputation). But I have decided to take the opportunity of the “Year-Ahead Moment” to transition from sell-side to buy-side and more importantly, to reflect on the past year and really try to prognosticate from the gut. You would be surprised how a blend of intuition and experience can make a difference in a cycle like the one we are in that has absolutely nothing in common with the other recessions of the post-WWII era.
Forecasting is a humbling profession even in the best of times and I have learned a lot in the past year, especially from my partners here at Gluskin Sheff who realizes all too well that:
1. It is what is embedded in asset prices benchmarked against the forecast that is of utmost importance for investors;
2. The focus of any forecast must take into account the reality that minimizing portfolio risks is at least as critical as maximizing the returns, and;
3. Every forecast has an error term and the range around any projection in a post-bubble credit collapse can be extremely wide.
I do not view the economic events of the last two years as a classic recession/recovery phase. They only exist in the context of a secular credit expansions and contractions. We are in a post-credit bubble credit collapse that is ongoing, à la Bob Farrell’s Rule 4: “Exponential rapidly rising or falling markets usually go further than you think, but they do not correct by going sideways.”
Mainstream economists called this downturn “The Great Recession”. This is truly a gentle way of saying “Depression”. When we can have the courage to come to grips with the fact that we did in fact experience a depression of sorts, which is by definition a credit event, then and only then can we draw a conclusion that a sustainable recovery will not get underway until the ratio of household credit to personal disposable income reverts to the mean (and goes to an excess in the opposite direction). I know it sounds harsh, but we shall endure — believe it. Transition is rarely without pain.
The ratio of household debt to disposable income is up from a 30% ratio back in the 1950s to 125% today (though down from 139% at the peak in 2007). Mean reverting to a ratio closer to 60% means that the deleveraging process will be a multi-year event and by the time it is over, more than $7 trillion in additional household credit will have to be extinguished. For more on this see the unbelievably grotesque article on the front page of last Thursday’s (December 10) Wall Street Journal — The New American Dream.
Perhaps inflation is a consensus forecast but deflation is the present day reality and often lingers for years following a busted asset and credit bubble of the magnitude we have endured over the past two years. The fact that China’s voracious appetite for basic materials will continue to exert upward pressure on commodity prices does not detract from this view, especially given the widespread excess capacity in the manufacturing sector and the new frugality that has gripped, and in many cases, been embraced by the retail sector. Higher raw material prices, owing to developments in Asia as opposed to demand pressures here at home, will prove to be a sustained source of profit margin compression for many sectors and companies linked to finished consumer goods and services.
So, much of what I have read in various Year-Ahead Reports predict corporate earnings, GDP growth here and abroad, interest rates and relative values of currencies. As I mentioned earlier, the error term is bound to be very wide in this new paradigm (since WWII) of a secular credit collapse. GDP growth in 1934 was 10%, but the Depression wasn’t over until 1940.
Since 1989, the Japanese stock market has had no fewer than four 50%-plus rallies and there still has been no period of growth that can be called a sustained expansion. Today, we have our own special set of conditions and it is bound to be tricky as is typical during a post-bubble credit collapse, no matter how intense the government reaction. Prematurely committing to the ‘risk’ trade is probably going to be the most lamentable action over the next few years.
Suffice it to say, we believe that the dominant focus will be on capital preservation and income orientation, whether that be in bonds, hybrids, hedge fund strategies, and a consistent focus on reliable dividend growth and dividend yield would seem to be in order. To reiterate, I see the range of outcomes in the financial markets and the economy to be extremely wide at the current time. But one conclusion I think we can agree on is the need to maintain defensive strategies and minimize volatility and downside risks as well as to focus on where the secular fundamentals are positive such, as in fixed-income and in equity sectors that lever off the commodity sector.
This, in turn, underscores my primary focus of favouring Canadian dollar based investments over the U.S. because at no time in my professional life have the downside risks — economic, fiscal, financial and political — been so low on a relative basis and the upside potential so high as is the case today. The near-2,000 basis point gap this year between the TSX and the S&P 500 — the former leading — should be taken in the context of being just past the halfway point of a secular (ie, 16-18 year) period of outperformance. Northern exposure never felt this hot.
Supporters of an escalation of the Afghanistan war often ask that we give military options a chance. They also respond to criticism of the surge by asking “okay smart guy, what would YOU do to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan?” Several pro-war posters also asked that pro-military arguments be given a chance.
Well, initially, the U.S. admits there are only a small handful of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. As ABC notes:
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded there are only about 100 al Qaeda fighters in the entire country.
100,000 troops in Afghanistan at an estimated yearly cost of $30
billion, it means that for every one al Qaeda fighter, the U.S. will
commit 1,000 troops and $300 million a year.
probably more than 100 homicidal maniacs in any large American city.
But we wouldn’t send soldiers into the city to get those bad guys.
Indeed, a leading advisor to the U.S. military – the very hawkish Rand Corporation – released a study
in 2008 called “How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al
Qa’ida”. The report confirms what experts have been saying for years:
the war on terror is actually weakening national security.
As a press release about the study states:
should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors, and
our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to
There are additional reasons why prolonging the Afghan war may reduce our national security, such as weakening our economy.
But if you want a military solution anyway, Andrew J. Bacevich has an answer.
is no dove. Graduating from West Point in 1969, he served in the United
States Army during the Vietnam War. He then held posts in Germany,
including the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the United States, and the
Persian Gulf up to his retirement from the service with the rank of
Colonel in the early 1990s. Bacevich holds a Ph.D. in American
Diplomatic History from Princeton University, and taught at West Point
and Johns Hopkins University prior to joining the faculty at Boston
University in 1998. Bacevich’s is a military family. On May 13, 2007,
Bacevich’s son, was killed in action while serving in Iraq.
Last year, Bacevich wrote in an article in Newsweek:
the chief effect of allied military operations there so far has been
not to defeat the radical Islamists but to push them across the
Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are
contributing to the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially
devastating implications. September’s bombing of the Marriott hotel in
Islamabad suggests that the extremists are growing emboldened. Today
and for the foreseeable future, no country poses a greater potential
threat to U.S. national security than does Pakistan. To risk the
stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging
Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake.
All this means that the
proper U.S. priority for Afghanistan should be not to try harder but to
change course. The war in Afghanistan (like the Iraq War) won’t be won
militarily. It can be settled—however imperfectly—only through politics.
new U.S. president needs to realize that America’s real political
objective in Afghanistan is actually quite modest: to ensure that
terrorist groups like Al Qaeda can’t use it as a safe haven for
launching attacks against the West. Accomplishing that won’t require
creating a modern, cohesive nation-state. U.S. officials tend to assume
that power in Afghanistan ought to be exercised from Kabul. Yet the
real influence in Afghanistan has traditionally rested with tribal
leaders and warlords. Rather than challenge that tradition, Washington
should work with it. Offered the right incentives, warlords can
accomplish U.S. objectives more effectively and more cheaply than
Western combat battalions. The basis of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan
should therefore become decentralization and outsourcing, offering cash
and other emoluments to local leaders who will collaborate with the
United States in excluding terrorists from their territory.
doesn’t mean Washington should blindly trust that warlords will become
America’s loyal partners. U.S. intelligence agencies should continue to
watch Afghanistan closely, and the Pentagon should crush any jihadist
activities that local powers fail to stop themselves. As with the
Israelis in Gaza, periodic airstrikes may well be required to pre-empt
brewing plots before they mature.
Were U.S. resources unlimited
and U.S. interests in Afghanistan more important, upping the ante with
additional combat forces might make sense. But U.S. power — especially
military power — is quite limited these days, and U.S. priorities lie
Rather than committing more troops, therefore, the
new president should withdraw them while devising a more realistic —
and more affordable — strategy for Afghanistan
words, America’s war strategy is increasing instability in Pakistan.
Pakistan has nuclear weapons. So the surge could very well decrease not
only American national security but the security of the entire world.
I think that diplomatic rather than military means should be used to
kill or contain the 100 bad guys in Afghanistan. But if we are going to
remain engaged militarily, Bacevich’s approach is a lot smarter than a
surge of boots on the ground.
Moreover, it would save hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars…
War hawks also ask “what would YOU have done after 9/11?” Gee, I don’t know . . . maybe gotten the Taliban to turn over Bin Laden?
BONUS UPDATE 2-FOR-1 AFTER THANKSGIVING PACKAGE DEAL SPECIAL: If you don’t hear about alternative plans such as Bacevich’s from the corporate media, here is why …
There are five reasons that the mainstream media is worthless.
1. Self-Censorship by Journalists
Initially, there is tremendous self-censorship by journalists.
For example, several months after 9/11, famed news anchor Dan Rather told the BBC that American reporters were practicing “a form of self-censorship”:
was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tires around
peoples’ necks if they dissented. And in some ways the fear is that you
will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of
patriotism put around your neck. Now it is that fear that keeps
journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions…. And
again, I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism.
What we are talking about here – whether one wants to recognise it
or not, or call it by its proper name or not – is a form of
Keith Olbermann agreed that there is self-censorship in the American media, and that:
can rock the boat, but you can never say that the entire ocean is in
trouble …. You cannot say: By the way, there’s something wrong with
our …. system.
As former Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin wrote in 2006:
political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant,
but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central. The threat
comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what
journalists were put on this green earth to do. . . .
the intense pressure to maintain access to insider sources, even as
those sources become ridiculously unrevealing and oversensitive.
There’s the fear of being labeled partisan if one’s bullshit-calling
isn’t meted out in precisely equal increments along the political
If mainstream-media political journalists don’t start
calling bullshit more often, then we do risk losing our primacy — if
not to the comedians then to the bloggers.
I still believe that
no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate bullshit-calling
than a well-informed beat reporter – whatever their beat. We just need
to get the editors, or the corporate culture, or the self-censorship –
or whatever it is – out of the way.
2. Censorship by Higher-Ups
journalists do want to speak out about an issue, they also are subject
to tremendous pressure by their editors or producers to kill the story.
Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who uncovered the Iraq prison torture
scandal and the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam, Seymour Hersh, said:
of the institutions we thought would protect us — particularly the
press, but also the military, the bureaucracy, the Congress — they
have failed. The courts . . . the jury’s not in yet on the courts. So
all the things that we expect would normally carry us through didn’t.
The biggest failure, I would argue, is the press, because that’s the
Q: What can be done to fix the (media) situation?
pause] You’d have to fire or execute ninety percent of the editors and
executives. You’d actually have to start promoting people from the
newsrooms to be editors who you didn’t think you could control. And
they’re not going to do that.”
And a series of interviews with award-winning journalists also documents censorship of certain stories by media editors and owners (and see these samples).
There are many reasons for censorship by media higher-ups.
One is money.
The media has a strong monetary interest to avoid controversial topics in general. It has always been true that advertisers discourage stories which challenge corporate power.
Indeed, a 2003 survey reveals that 35% of reporters and news executives
themselves admitted that journalists avoid newsworthy stories if “the story would be embarrassing or damaging to the financial interests of a news organization’s owners or parent company.”
In addition, the government has allowed tremendous consolidation in ownership of the airwaves during the past decade.
Dan Rather has slammed media consolidation:
media consolidation to that of the banking industry, Rather claimed
that “roughly 80 percent” of the media is controlled by no more than
six, and possibly as few as four, corporations.
This is documented by the following must-see charts prepared by:
And check out this list of interlocking directorates of big media companies from Fairness and Accuracy in Media, and this resource from the Columbia Journalism Review to research a particular company.
This image gives a sense of the decline in diversity in media ownership over the last couple of decades:
large media players stand to gain billions of dollars in profits if the
Obama administration continues to allow monopoly ownership of the
airwaves by a handful of players. The media giants know who butters
their bread. So there is a spoken or tacit agreement: if the media
cover the administration in a favorable light, the MSM will continue to
be the receiver of the government’s goodies.
3. Drumming Up Support for War
In addition, the owners of American media companies have long actively played a part in drumming up support for war.
is painfully obvious that the large news outlets studiously avoided any
real criticism of the government’s claims in the run up to the Iraq
war. It is painfully obvious that the large American media companies
acted as lapdogs and stenographers for the government’s war agenda.
Veteran reporter Bill Moyers criticized
the corporate media for parroting the obviously false link between 9/11
and Iraq (and the false claims that Iraq possessed WMDs) which the
administration made in the run up to the Iraq war, and concluded that
the false information was not challenged because:
[mainstream] media had been cheerleaders for the White House from the
beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the
President — no questions asked.”
And as NBC News’ David Gregory (later promoted to host Meet the Press) said:
think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not
stand up [in the run-up to the war] and say ‘this is bogus, and you’re
a liar, and why are you doing this,’ that we didn’t do our job. I
respectfully disagree. It’s not our role”
But this is nothing new. In fact, the large media companies have drummed up support for all previous wars.
And an official summary of America’s overthrow of the democratically-elected president of Iran in the 1950′s states, “In
cooperation with the Department of State, CIA had several articles
planted in major American newspapers and magazines which, when
reproduced in Iran, had the desired psychological effect in Iran and
contributed to the war of nerves against Mossadeq.” (page x)
The mainstream media also may have played footsie with the U.S. government right before Pearl Harbor. Specifically, a highly-praised historian (Bob Stineet) argues
that the Army’s Chief of Staff informed the Washington bureau chiefs of
the major newspapers and magazines of the impending Pearl Harbor attack
BEFORE IT OCCURRED, and swore them to an oath of secrecy, which the
media honored (page 361) .
And the military-media alliance has continued without a break (as a highly-respected journalist says,
“viewers may be taken aback to see the grotesque extent to which US
presidents and American news media have jointly shouldered key
propaganda chores for war launches during the last five decades.”)
As the mainstream British paper, the Independent, writes:
is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass
media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist
it and to expose it. The sheer ease with which this machinery has been
able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now
afflicts the production of our news.
The article in the
Independent discusses the use of “black propaganda” by the U.S.
government, which is then parroted by the media without analysis; for
example, the government forged
a letter from al Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qa’ida’s
leadership, urging them to accept that the best way to beat US forces
in Iraq was effectively to start a civil war, which was then publicized
without question by the media..
So why has the American press has consistenly served the elites in disseminating their false justifications for war?
One of of the reasons is because the large media companies are owned by those who support the militarist agenda or even directly profit from war and terror (for example, NBC – which is being sold to Comcast – was owned by General Electric, one of the largest defense contractors in the world — which directly profits from war, terrorism and chaos).
Another seems to be an unspoken rule that the media will not criticize the government’s imperial war agenda.
the media support isn’t just for war: it is also for various other
shenanigans by the powerful. For example, a BBC documentary proves:
was “a planned coup in the USA in 1933 by a group of right-wing
American businessmen . . . . The coup was aimed at toppling President
Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The
plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families
in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse &
George Bush’s Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should
adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great
See also this book.
Have you ever heard of this scheme before? It was certainly a very large one. And if the conspirators controlled the newspapers then, how much worse is it today with media consolidation?
$25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post has offered lobbyists and
association executives off-the-record, nonconfrontational access to
“those powerful few”: Obama administration officials, members of
Congress, and — at first — even the paper’s own reporters and editors…
offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator
for private lobbyist-official encounters — was a new sign of the
lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time
when most newspapers are struggling for survival.
be one reason that the mainstream news commentators hate bloggers so
much. The more people who get their news from blogs instead of
mainstream news sources, the smaller their audience, and the less the
MSM can charge for the kind of “nonconfrontational access” which leads
to puff pieces for the big boys.
5. Censorship by the Government
as if the media’s own interest in promoting war is not strong enough,
the government has exerted tremendous pressure on the media to report
things a certain way. Indeed, at times the government has thrown media owners and reporters in jail
if they’ve been too critical. The media companies have felt great
pressure from the government to kill any real questioning of the
For example, Dan Rather said, regarding American media, “What you have is a miniature version of what you have in totalitarian states”.
Tom Brokaw said “all wars are based on propaganda.
And the head of CNN said:
was ‘almost a patriotism police’ after 9/11 and when the network showed
[things critical of the administration's policies] it would get phone
calls from advertisers and the administration and “big people in
corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American
Indeed, former military analyst and famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said that the government has ordered the media not to cover 9/11:
Ellsberg seemed hardly surprised
that today’s American mainstream broadcast media has so far failed to
take [former FBI translator and 9/11 whistleblower Sibel] Edmonds up on
her offer, despite the blockbuster nature of her allegations [which
Ellsberg calls "far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers"].
Edmonds has also alluded, Ellsberg pointed to the New York Times, who
“sat on the NSA spying story for over a year” when they “could have put
it out before the 2004 election, which might have changed the outcome.”
will be phone calls going out to the media saying ‘don’t even think of
touching it, you will be prosecuted for violating national security,’” he told us.
* * *
“I am confident that there is conversation inside the Government as to ‘How do we deal with Sibel?’” contends Ellsberg. “The
first line of defense is to ensure that she doesn’t get into the media.
I think any outlet that thought of using her materials would go to to
the government and they would be told ‘don’t touch this . . . .‘”
Of course, if the stick approach doesn’t work, the government can always just pay off reporters to spread disinformation.
Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says the CIA has already bought and paid for many successful journalists. See also this New York Times piece, this essay by the Independent, this speech by one of the premier writers on journalism, and this and this roundup.
in the final analysis, the main reason today that the media giants will
not cover the real stories or question the government’s actions or
policies in any meaningful way is that the American government and
mainstream media been somewhat blended together.
Can We Win the Battle Against Censorship?
cannot just leave governance to our “leaders”, as “The price of freedom
is eternal vigilance” (Jefferson). Similarly, we cannot leave news to
the corporate media. We need to “be the media” ourselves.
“To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of men.”
- Abraham Lincoln
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
and silence go together. We…should use our privileged positions not
as a shelter from the world’s reality, but as a platform from which to
speak. A voice is a gift. It should be cherished and used.”
– Margaret Atwood
is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is
the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at
points in history and creating a power that [nothing] cannot suppress.”
- Howard Zinn (historian)
“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent”
- Thomas Jefferson