As usual in these weekly musings, we present items in the news media and the blogosphere that have caught our attention during the previous week…..
Money market fund redemption freezes?
The following piece is courtesy of Jesse’s Café Americain. (Minor changes have been made)
Zero Hedge has an interesting review of proposed rule changes by the SEC and the Obama Administration which you can read in its entirety here.
Yet new regulations proposed by the administration, and specifically by the ever-incompetent Securities and Exchange Commission, seek to pull one of the three core pillars from the foundation of the entire money market industry, by changing the primary assumptions of the key Money Market Rule 2a-7.
The primary concern seems to be the new ability of money market fund managers to freeze redemptions (withdrawals) of funds at their discretion.
“A key proposal in the overhaul of money market regulation suggests that money market fund managers will have the option to ‘suspend redemptions to allow for the orderly liquidation of fund assets.'”
If you have the time, you should sit down and read through the entire essay at ZH, because it is fascinating. I understand that many will not because of the length and density of the piece, which is really not all that bad, and fairly well written as all of their pieces tend to be. I am not so adverse to some of the other changes in the MMFs such as the tightening of durations, but that is more a quibble.
One also has to wonder if and when the government will begin to more aggressively manage the access of private citizens to their 401K’s and IRA’s and other forms of savings. Or is it just sufficient to manage the things that one might hold in them? Hard to say.
Now that the government will be forcing Americans to buy private health insurance (and presumably use it to prevent certain transmittable diseases for the public good as your private health insurer will have your records) where will they stop? What about life insurance, long term disability insurance, and retirement plans? How about psychological counseling and sensitivity training for social malcontents? “A gram is better than a damn.”
Here is the concluding paragraph from this essay and I wanted to highlight it here because otherwise it will be overlooked by many who should read and understand it. The conclusions that the author draws about WHY the changes are being made are more important perhaps than the changes themselves. Or at least to me, because I have very little money in any US money market fund, and even that is 100% short term Treasuries. The fraud and mispricing of risk in the US financial system has become pervasive and epidemic, such that a good stiff headwind could have taken it all down, and because of a lack of serious reform, still can. Rather than fixing potential causes of the next disaster, the Obama Administration seems content to block the escape routes and issue priority passes to the big Wall Street banks and a favored few.
“At this point it is without doubt that even the government understands that when things turn sour, and they will, the run on the bank will be unavoidable: their solution – prevent money from being dispensed, when that moment comes. The thing about crises, be they liquidity, solvency, or plain-vanilla, is that “price discovery” occurs suddenly, and at the very same time. And all too often, investors “discover” they were lied to, as the emperor, in any fiat system, always has no clothes.This Is the Government: Your Legal Right To Redeem Your Money Market Account Has Been Denied – ZeroHedge
Just as in September 2008, when the banks were forced to look at each others’ balance sheets and realize that there were no real assets on the left backing up the liabilities on the right, so the moment of enlightenment occurs at the most importune time: just ask Hank Paulson. Had he known his action of beefing up Goldman’s FICC trading axes would have resulted in the “Ice-Nine’ing” (to borrow a Mark Pittman term) of money markets, who knows- maybe Lehman would have still been alive. Perhaps risking the cash access of 20% of US households and 80% of companies was not worth the few extra zeroes in Goldman’s EPS. But we will never know.
What we will know, is that now i) the government is all too aware that the market has become one huge ponzi, and that all investment vehicles, even the safest ones, are subject to bank runs, and ii) that said bank runs, will occur. It is only a matter of time. And just as the president told everyone directly to buy the market on March 3, so the SEC, the Group of 30, and Barney Frank are telling us all, much less directly, to get the hell out of Dodge. Alternatively, the game of “last fool in”, holding the burning hot potato, can continue indefinitely, until such time as the marginal utility of each and every dollar printed by Ben Bernanke is zero.”
Stand your ground and wait. All is well. Someone has to take the big hit while the important people are transported to safety.
The only constraint on the Fed’s printing money is the acceptability (marginal value) of the Bond and the dollar, which is the bond of zero duration. And the people making the decisions about printing and distributing those dollars are more unworthy of holding such power than you might imagine, even in your lowest expectations.
And if, even now, you do not ‘get this’ then the next ten years could be particularly disappointing.
Who will buy Treasury Bonds this year?
(Courtesy of Zero Hedge)
Brace For Impact: In 2010, Demand For US Fixed Income Has To Increase Elevenfold… Or Else
As everyone is engrossed by assorted groundless Christmas (and other ongoing bear market) rallies, and oblivious to the debt monsters hiding in both the closet and under the bed, Zero Hedge has decided it is about time to present the ugliest truth faced by our ‘intellectual superiors’ and their Wall Street henchman who succeeded in pulling off Goal #1 for 2009 – the biggest ever bonus season (forget record bonuses in 2010… in fact, scratch any bonuses next year if what is likely to transpire in the upcoming 12 months does in fact occur).
If someone asks you what happened in 2009, the answer is simple – two things. There was a huge credit and liquidity crunch, and then there was Quantitative Easing. The last is the Fed’s equivalent of band-aiding a zombied and ponzied corpse, better known as the US economy. It worked for a while, but now the zombie is about to go back into critical, followed by comatose, and lastly, undead (and 401(k)-depleting) condition.
In 2009, total supply of all USD denominated fixed income, net of maturities, declined by $300 billion from $2.05 trillion to $1.75 trillion. This makes sense: the abovementioned crunches stopped the flow of credit from January until well into April, and generally firms were unwilling to demonstrate to the market how clothless they are by hitting the capital markets until well into Q2 if not Q3. What happened was a move so drastic by the Fed, that into November, the worst of the worst High Yield names were freely upsizing dividend recap deals (see CCU) – the very same greed and stupidity that brought us here. Luckily, so far securitization and CDOs have not made a dramatic entrance. They likely will, at which point it will be time to buy a one-way ticket for either our southern or northern neighbor, both of which, in the supremest of ironies, transact in a currency that will survive long after the dollar is dead and buried.
Back to the math… And here is the kicker. Accounting for securities purchased by the Fed, which effectively made the market in the Treasury, the agency and MBS arenas, but also served to “drain duration” from the broader US$ fixed income market, the stunning result is that net issuance in 2009 was only $200 billion. Take a second to digest that.
And while you are lamenting the death of private debt markets, here is precisely what the Fed, the Treasury, and all bank CEOs are doing all their best to keep hidden until they are safely on their private jets heading toward warmer climes: in 2010, the total estimated net issuance across all US$ denominated fixed income classes is expected to increase by 27%, from $1.75 trillion to $2.22 trillion. The culprit: Treasury issuance to keep funding an impossible budget. And, yes, we use the term impossible in its most technical sense. As everyone who has taken First Grade math knows, there is no way that the ludicrous deficit spending the US has embarked on makes any sense at all… none. But the administration can sure pretend it does, until everything falls apart and blaming everyone else for its fiscal imprudence is no longer an option.
Out of the $2.22 trillion in expected 2010 issuance, $200 billion will be absorbed by the Fed while QE continues through March. Then the US is on its own: $2.06 trillion will have to find non-Fed originating demand. To sum up: $200 billion in 2009; $2.1 trillion in 2010. Good luck.
As we pointed, the number one reason why 2010 is set to be a truly “interesting” year is a result of the upcoming explosion in US Treasury issuance. Fiscal 2010 gross coupon issuance is expected to hit $2.55 trillion, a $700 billion increase from 2009, which in turn was $1.1 trillion increase from 2008. For those of you needing a primer on the exponential function, click here. But wait, there is a light in the tunnel: in 2011, gross issuance is expected to decline… to $1.9 trillion.
And while things are hair-raising in “gross” country (not Bill…at least not yet), they are not much better in netville either. Net of maturities, 2010 coupon issuance will be about $1.8 trillion, a 45% increase from the $1.3 trillion in FY 2009 (and the paltry $255 billion in 2008).
Now everyone knows that the average maturity of the UST curve has become a big problem for Tim Geithner: nearly 40% of all marketable debt matures within a year (a percentage that has kept on growing). In fact, the Treasury provided guidance in its November 2009 refunding, in which it stated that it intends “to focus on increasing the average maturity” of its debt after relying heavily on Bill issuance in H2. Once again, we wish Tim the best of luck.
Why our generous best intentions to the US Treasury? Because unless the US consumer decides to forgo the purchase of the 4th sequential Kindle and buy some Treasuries (and not just any: 30 Year Bonds or bust), the presumption that the Bond printer will have the option of finding vast foreign appetite for its spewage is a very myopic one. We already know that China is a major question mark, and will aggressively be looking at pumping capital into its own economy instead of that of Uncle Sam’s – at some point the return on investment in its own middle class will surpass that of funding the rapidly disappearing US middle class. That tipping point could be as soon as 2010.
As for Japan – the country has plunged into its nth consecutive deflationary period. Whether or not the finance minister announces yet another affair with the Quantitative Easing whore on any given day, depends merely on what side of the bed he wakes up on. The country will have its hands full monetizing its own sovereign issuance, let alone ours.
Lastly, the UK – well, with the country set to have zero bankers left in a few months, we don’t think the traditionally third largest purchaser of US debt will be doing much purchasing any time soon.
None of this is merely speculation: October TIC data confirmed these preliminary observations. It will only become more pronounced in upcoming months.
How about that great globalization dynamo: emerging markets? Alas, they have their hands full with issuing their own record amounts of both sovereign and corporate debt as well: in 2009 gross EM debt issuance reached an astounding $217 billion, $29 billion higher than the previous record in 2007. Gross EM issuance was particularly high in the last quarter at $73 billion, with October breaking the record for the largest ever monthly gross issuance of emerging market global bonds at $38 billion (January is traditionally the busiest month of the year.) With $81 billion, 2009 was notably a record year for sovereign bonds, while gross issuance of corporate bonds amounted to $136 billion, the second highest level after that of 2007 with $155 billion.
Bottom line: everyone has major problems at home, and is more focused on the supply than the demand side of the equation.
What options does this leave for the administration? Very few, and all of them are ugly. As we stated earlier on, the options for the Fed are threefold:
- Announce a new iteration of Quantitative Easing. This will be met with major disapproval across all voting classes (at least those whose residential zip codes do not start with 10xxx or 068xx), creating major headaches for Obama and the democrats which are already struggling with collapsing polls.
- Prepare for a major increase in interest rates. While on the surface this would be very welcome for a Fed that keeps hinting that deflation is the biggest concern for the economy, Bernanke’s complete lack of preparation from a monetary standpoint (we are surprised the Fed’s $200 million reverse repos have not made the late night comedy circuit yet) to a forced interest rate increase, would likely result in runaway inflation almost overnight. The result would be a huge blow to a still deteriorating economy.
- Engineer a stock market collapse. Recently investors have, rightfully, realized there is no more risk in equities, not because the assets backing the stockholder equity are actually creating greater cash flow (as we demonstrated recently, that is not the case), but simply because taxpayers have involuntarily become safekeepers for the entire stock market, due to Bernanke’s forced intervention in bond and equity markets. Yet the President’s Working Group is fully aware that when the time comes to hitting the “reverse” button, it will do so. Will the resultant rush into safe assets be sufficient to generate the needed endogenous demand for Treasuries is unknown. It will likely be correlated to the size of the equity market drop.
If the Fed decides on option three, we fully believe a 30% drop (or greater) in equities is very probable as the new supply/demand regime in fixed income becomes apparent. We hope mainstream media takes the ideas presented here and processes them for broader consumption as indeed the Fed is caught in a very fragile dilemma, and the sooner its hand is pushed, the less disastrous the final outcome for investors. Then again, as Eric Sprott has been pointing out for quite some time, it could very well be that the US economy has become merely one huge Ponzi, and as such, its expansion or reduction on the margin is uncontrollable. We very well may have passed into the stage where blind growth is the only alternative to a complete collapse. We hope that is not the case.
Chinese car sales roaring ahead (and they all need fuel!)
SHANGHAI, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) — Whole year auto sales for the U.S. auto giant General Motors (GM) in the Chinese market topped 1.82 million units, up 66.9 percent from a year earlier, the company said Monday in an annual business report.
Bullish sales of Buick, Chevrolet and Wuling vehicles boosted the market share, which expanded to an estimated 13.4 percent in 2009, up 1.3 percentage points from that in the previous year, according to the report.
Sales for GM’s original brand Buick in China in 2009 surged 59.6 percent from a year earlier to 447,011 unites. The company’s Chevrolet sales in China reached more than 330,000 units, up 67.1 percent year on year.
SAIC-GM-Wuling, GM’s commercial vehicle tie-up with Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp (SAIC) and Liuzhou Wuling Automobile, sold more than 1 million vehicles in 2009, up 65.1 percent year on year, the report said.
GM China president Kevin Wale expected better performance on China’s market this year, saying the GM would expand further but at a slower pace.
From January to November, China produced and sold more than 12.2 million cars, making it the world’s largest auto market, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers announced early this month.
ALL OF THESE CARS HAVE TO BE FUELLED!
GDXJ – gold juniors ETF
Most of our readers will be familiar with the GDX ETF, which tracks the performance of an index of major gold producers. Towards the end of 2009, a new ETF, symbol GDXJ, was launched, which tracks the performance of a set of junior precious metals mining companies. Interestingly, it includes such silver stalwarts as Silver Standard and Silver Wheaton, which can hardly be described as junior. Now if you believe in an imminent (or not so imminent) precious metals boom, this is a must-own stock….
From Arabian.money.net comes the following note:
Last year saw the launch of the first ETF covering junior mining stocks (GDXJ) and for a longer term play on the gold price with maximum leverage to the upside this looks a good choice. The ETF is highly diversified, avoiding the risk of picking a dud among the many junior firms, while still exposed to the precious metals sub-class with the highest upside in a boom, and is also very liquid, unlike the small stocks themselves.
A diversified gold and silver portfolio for 2010 should therefore include the physical metals, selected major stocks and some exposure to the smaller companies. This will put investors in a position to capitalize on the big upswing in precious metal prices which is coming this year.
Willem Buiter warns of massive dollar collapse
Americans must prepare themselves for a massive collapse in the dollar as investors around the world dump their US assets, a former Bank of England policymaker has warned.
By Edmund Conway, Economics Editor of the Daily Telegraph, UK
Published: 5:34PM GMT 05 Jan 2009
The long-held assumption that US assets – particularly government bonds – are a safe haven will soon be overturned as investors lose their patience with the world’s biggest economy, according to Willem Buiter.
Professor Buiter, a former Monetary Policy Committee member who is now at the London School of Economics, said this increasing disenchantment would result in an exodus of foreign cash from the US.
The warning comes despite the dollar having strengthened significantly against other major currencies, including sterling and the euro, after hitting historic lows last year. It will reignite fears about the currency’s prospects, as well as sparking fears about the sustainability of President-Elect Barack Obama’s mooted plans for a Keynesian-style increase in public spending to pull the US out of recession.
Writing on his blog , Prof Buiter said: “There will, before long (my best guess is between two and five years from now) be a global dumping of US dollar assets, including US government assets. Old habits die hard. The US dollar and US Treasury bills and bonds are still viewed as a safe haven by many. But learning takes place.”
He said that the dollar had been kept elevated in recent years by what some called “dark matter” or “American alpha” – an assumption that the US could earn more on its overseas investments than foreign investors could make on their American assets. However, this notion had been gradually dismantled in recent years, before being dealt a fatal blow by the current financial crisis, he said.
“The past eight years of imperial overstretch, hubris and domestic and international abuse of power on the part of the Bush administration has left the US materially weakened financially, economically, politically and morally,” he said. “Even the most hard-nosed, Guantanamo Bay-indifferent potential foreign investor in the US must recognise that its financial system has collapsed.”
He said investors would, rightly, suspect that the US would have to generate major inflation to whittle away its debt and this dollar collapse means that the US has less leeway for major spending plans than politicians realise.
Massive social and political unrest bordering on chaos coming to America?
The Daily Bell is pleased to publish an interview with the distinguished libertarian attorney and activist, Edwin Vieira, Jr.
Introduction: Dr. Vieira holds four degrees from Harvard: A.B. (Harvard College), A.M. and Ph.D. (Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), and J.D. (Harvard Law School). For over thirty-six years he has been a practicing attorney, specializing in cases that raise issues of constitutional law. He has presented numerous cases of import before the Supreme Court and written numerous monographs and articles in scholarly journals. His latest scholarly works are Pieces of Eight: The Monetary Powers and Disabilities of the United States Constitution (2d rev. ed. 2002), a comprehensive study of American monetary law and history viewed from a constitutional perspective, and How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary (2004), a study of the problems of irresponsible “judicial supremacy”, and how to deal with them. With well known libertarian trader Victor Sperandeo, he is also the co-author (under a nom de plume) of the political novel CRA$HMAKER: A Federal Affaire (2000), a not-so-fictional story of an engineered “crash” of the Federal Reserve System, and the political revolution it causes. He is now working on an extensive project concerned with the constitutional “Militia of the Several States” and “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.
Here is a brief synopsis of what Dr. Vieira had to say:
Daily Bell: Thanks for sitting down with us. Let’s get right to it. In your view, what are the most critical domestic problems facing America?
Edwin Vieira Jr.: Two stand out. The foremost problem – because it is the source of, or contributes significantly to, almost every economic difficulty now plaguing this country – is the inherent and ineradicable instability of the present monetary and banking systems, centered around the Federal Reserve System. (our emphasis)
The second problem derives from the first. It is the ever-accelerating development of a first-class para-militarized police-state apparatus centered around the United States Department of Homeland Security, with its tentacles reaching down into every police force throughout the States and localities. Fundamentally, this apparatus is not, and never was, designed to deal with international “terrorism”. If that were its goal, its first task would be absolutely to secure the southern border of the United States, which it has never seriously attempted to do. Rather, it is being set up to deal with what the political-cum-financial Establishment anticipates (and I believe rightly so) will be massive social and political unrest bordering on chaos throughout America when the monetary and banking systems finally implode in the not-so-distant future – surely in hyperinflation, and probably in hyperinflation coupled with a gut-wrenching depression. (our emphasis)
Richard Russell is the “grandfather of investment newsletter writers” having written the Dow Theory Letters since 1958, so he has seen more booms and busts first hand than most and also has called many tops and bottoms so he bears listening too. This is an excerpt on silver from his latest letter…
“They call it ‘the poor man’s gold’. But don’t turn your nose up at silver. The dollar was originally defined in terms of silver. When precious metals are on the rise (as now), silver tends to be seen as a monetary metal. When times are bad, silver is seen as an industrial metal. Silver has a huge number of industrial uses; silver is the best conductor of electricity. Unlike gold, silver is actually used (and used up) in industry. Thus, a large amount of silver is lost every year. In contrast, 85% of all the gold ever mined in all history is still around; it’s in your teeth or in your sweetie’s bracelet or in that ancient Egyptian ring that you see in your local museum.
“Historically, when silver gets going, it tends to make huge percentage moves. I think you can see that from the long-term chart below. For instance, back in November 2008, silver was selling for 8.65 an ounce. Today an ounce of silver is selling for 18.10 an ounce, more than double.
“Silver is now climbing back from a drastic correction, as you can see via the chart below. In December silver hit a high of over 19 dollars an ounce. Back in 1980 (and I remember this well) silver climbed wildly (limit up day after day), and it hit $50 dollars an ounce around January of 1980.
“Silver is now in an erratic bull market. How high it may go I don’t know, but I would not be shocked to see silver ultimately climb above its 1980 price of $50 bucks an ounce. Historically, once ounce of gold will buy around 15 ounces of silver. Today an ounce of gold will buy 62 ounces of silver. Silver compared with gold is dirt-cheap today. (Our emphasis)
“How to invest in silver? I like the 100 ounce bars if you can find them (they weigh about 8.5 pounds each). Or buy the 10 ounce bars. Or you can buy the exchange traded fund SLV.
“Yesterday, both gold and platinum closed at new highs for the move. Silver is lagging behind, but when silver finally catches up, it may be a stunner. Over the last year the price of silver doubled; gold didn’t perform that well.
“Below I show a point & figure chart of silver. The white metal is now in a well-established rising trend. The upside target is the 21 box. If silver hits the 22 box, that will light the fuse. If silver hits the 22 box, I will view the whole structure that you see on this chart as one huge base.
“To put it briefly, I like silver. Gold has one advantage over silver, every central bank owns some gold, and most want more.”
Any questions or thoughts on any of the above? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to answer any questions…