I defined a Muddle Through Economy in the past as one of slow growth (in the area of 1-2%) and a slack employment environment, such as we had in 2002 and the early part of 2003. In early 2007, I suggested we would return at some point to such an environment at the end of the recession I was predicting.
However, gentle reader, never in my wildest dreams did I think we could be looking at government deficits of $1.5 trillion dollars and actually budgeting future deficits of over $1 trillion as far as the eye can see. And there is real reason to think that under current plans, $1 trillion deficits are optimistic.
Look at the graph above from the Heritage Foundation. They suggest that current policy would bring us closer to a $2 trillion deficit by 2019. And that assumes nominal growth that is north of 3% and unemployment dropping back below 5% in reasonably short order.
Some readers wrote this week telling me I am far too worried about a rising government deficit. Right now we are at roughly 42%
by Zero Hedge - October 18th, 2009 11:12 pm
Courtesy of Tyler Durden
Rajmahal was just the beginning. The Sri Lankan, who just made the record books for spending a generous $100 million on bail and has even bigger digs in New York’s Sutton Place complex (although not quite Richard Perry big), is just the proverbial appetizer. And if regulators have truly decided to start treating the hedge fund industry like the 21st century equivalent of organized crime (which they have as previously disclosed by the US attorney), tonight many other wannabe billionaires are not sleeping too well (and even considering checking out Expedia for some sweet one-way trip deals). Because if they are not, they will be after reading the most recent take on their upcoming plight. From Bloomberg: “Federal investigators are gearing up to file charges against a wider array of insider-trading networks, some linked to the criminal case against billionaire hedge-fund manager Raj Rajaratnam that shook Wall Street last week, people familiar with the matter said.” If nothing else, this will hopefully force many of them to reevaluate the nomenclature of what funds to allocate the hundreds of billions of dollars that have emerged from the “sidelines” recently: it would appear The Insider Trading Rapid Value Appreciation Offshore Fund, most recently developed at Shady Pickins Asset Management (SPAM L.P.), may not be the best appellation after all.
And, in the most delicious sense of Kafkaesque irony, nobody is safe anymore: if you have talked on the phone, exchanged text messages, or even communicated in smoke signals to get that $100k “sure thing” – you are on the hook.
The pending crackdown, based on at least two years of investigation, targets securities professionals including hedge- fund managers, lawyers and other Wall Street players, the people said, declining to be identified because the cases aren’t public. Some probes, like the one that focused on Rajaratnam, rely on wiretaps. Others stem from a secret Securities and Exchange Commission data-mining project set up to pinpoint clusters of people who make similar well-timed stock investments.
And the following advice demonstrates just why the SEC is so terrified of going after not just the medium fry, but the really big fish (pardon, we may have some interspecies confusion as we realize cephalopods are a different phylum than fish):
“If you’re going to shoot
by Zero Hedge - October 18th, 2009 9:59 pm
Courtesy of George Washington
You know that the government and the giant banks are not being responsive to the needs of the economy and the American people when even PhD economists and economics professors are calling for protests.
Indeed, many top experts and even politicians say that the American political system has suffered almost total regulatory capture, where Wall Street calls the shots. See this, this, this, this, and this.
As respected financial commentator Yves Smith points out, PhD economist Dean Baker, economics professor William K. Black and others are helping to organize peaceful protests outside of the annual meeting of the American Association of Bankers.
If you saw Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, a disconcerting bit was
his discussion of a series of research reports put out by Citigroup for some of
its asset management client in 2005 on “Plutonomy”. It argued that a world
ordered to suit the whims of the top 1% was well underway. The only thing that might get in the way was that the other 99% had the force of numbers on its side.
Sometimes it takes a show of numbers to change the dynamic. As Baker pointed out:
The elites hate to acknowledge it, but when large numbers of ordinary people are moved to action, it changes the narrow political world where the elites call the shots. Inside accounts reveal the extent to which Johnson and Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War was constrained by the huge anti-war movement. It was the civil rights movement, not compelling arguments, that convinced members of Congress to end legal racial discrimination. More recently, the townhall meetings, dominated by people opposed to health care reform, have been a serious roadblock for those pushing reform….
A big turnout at this event can make a real difference.
Baker is correct about Vietnam.
Specifically, in a little known fact, Nixon was considering using nuclear weapons in Vietnam (and see this).
At that time, Nixon was also repeatedly publicly saying that he didn’t care what the American people thought about Vietnam, and that he was going to escalate the war anyway. However, according to a biography by a well-known historian, when Nixon saw hundreds of thousands of…
Detailed Look At TIC Flows: August Treasury Purchases By China, Japan And UK Drop To Lowest Total Year To Date
by Zero Hedge - October 18th, 2009 8:58 pm
Courtesy of Tyler Durden
The most convoluted monthly report issued by the US Treasury, that of Treasury International Capital (TIC) flows was released on Friday, and it disclosed some troubling data points. While foreigners overall continued purchasing domestic assets, their appetite continues to decline. In particular foreigners increased their purchases of Treasuries marginally, while they continued selling off corporate bonds and agencies, while buying corporate stocks. Yet, most troublingly, the Big 3 (China, Japan and the UK) purchased the least net total of Bonds and Bills year to date: as the Fed now dominates the market for Treasuries, traditional buyers are becoming increasingly nervous.
- $23.9 billion of Treasury Bonds and Bills were acquired in August, a decline from $31.1 billion in July and $100.5 billion June.
- GSE holdings continued declining – it appears only the Fed has any desire to hold on to that toxic trash these days: $5.3 billion was sold in August, after $17.8 billion was sold in July and $8.6 billion was sold in June.
- Corporate bonds same story: $11.7 billion sold in August, after $20.5 billion was sold in July and $6.8 billion in June
- Equities continue being the only capital flow bright spot: desire for Fed sponsored risk is still rampant although much subdued: $17.3 billion was bought in August, after $21.4 billion was purchased in July and $104.2 in June.
In the red flag category, China reduced its holdings of US Treasuries from $800 billion to $797 billion. In August Mainland China purchased $15.4 billion of UST Bonds and sold $18.8 billion of UST Bills, for a net sale of $3.3 billion. The other two big purchasers, Japan and the UK, increased their holdings by $6.5 billion and $4.5 billion, respectively (more below).
Also notable is the continued increase of near-term UST Bill holdings by foreigners: even though August saw a nominal sale of Bills of $2.5 billion (compared to a $14.2 billion increase in July), the amount of Bills in UST holdings has nearly doubled to 25% from a pre-crisis average of 10-15%.
We present a more detailed look at Long-term (Bond) and Short-term (Bill) Treasury holdings by the Big 3 foreign purchasers: China, UK and Japan. The chart below presents the total UST purchases/dispositions by the Big 3 broken down by Long-Term and Short-Term:
by ilene - October 18th, 2009 6:31 pm
Courtesy of Mish
The US government is on an unsustainable path. Deficits are soaring and the Obama administration is planning massive tax hikes.
Moreover, businesses have little reason to hire already because of massive overcapacity. Add increasing health care costs to the list of reasons for businesses not to hire.
Given that government spending crowds out private investment, these policies all but assures that unemployment is going to remain high for a long time as noted in Structurally High Unemployment For A Decade.
Killing The Goose
Last week in Thoughts on the Economy: Problems and Solutions I listed the problems and some of the solutions facing the economy. It was a discussion between John Mauldin and I about his weekly E-Letter Killing The Goose.
John and I agreed on many, but not all solutions. I would also like to add something I have proposed before, killing the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage act.
Muddle Through Where Art Thou?
Back in 2002, the usually optimistic Mauldin proposed the economy would somehow manage to "Muddle Through".
However, because of the unsustainable path we are on. John has changed his mind. Please consider these excerpts from Muddle Through, R.I.P?
by ilene - October 18th, 2009 6:18 pm
Courtesy of Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario
The US increasingly displays characteristics that we have seen many times in middle-income “emerging markets” – new dimensions of vast inequality, forms of financial instability that benefit the best connected, and consistently easy credit for the privileged. But this raises the question: who exactly is going to dominate our economic and political landscape moving forward?
In most emerging markets, a major crisis means that some powerful people and their firms fall from grace. After the Asian Financial Crisis (1997-98), some of the biggest Korean chaebol disappeared or broke up, numerous Thai bankers lost their top positions, and there was a discreet reshuffle among the Malaysian business elite. Russian oligarchs rise and fall with the price of oil; the process in Ukraine is similar, although somewhat murkier.
With every sharp turn of the cycle, new people rise to the front – taking advantage of low asset prices and the fact that most people struggle to borrow on reasonable terms. In Mexico, after the crisis of 1994-95, Carlos Slim consolidated his position in telecoms and used this as a launching pad to become one of the world’s richest people.
Three sets of players look positioned to do the same in the US today, mostly based on the amazing set of “carry trades” available if you have access to large amounts of cheap short-term funding (e.g., along the yield curve, from dollars into other currencies, and – arguably – into equity in some parts of the world).
First, obviously nothing can stop Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. With unfettered access to the Federal Reserve and no effective controls on their ability to take risk, they are in the catbird seat. The weakness of other big banks is further icing on their cake. GS and JPM are symbols will loom large over the national and international economy for a long time to come, with the main threat (to them) coming from their rather too blatant market share in many products.
Second, the surviving big hedge funds will do very well (partial list). They can move fast, they have no regard for anything other than profit, and they will not be effectively regulated. Their access to credit runs through the biggest banks and this can be a double-edged sword – expect
by Zero Hedge - October 18th, 2009 6:14 pm
Courtesy of asiablues
Last Friday, U.S. crude oil futures finished above $78, the highest level in a year, surging more than 9% during the past week making it the largest weekly gain since the height of the summer driving season, even though the U.S. continues to sit on ample supply of petroleum.
Given the continued sluggishness of the economy, high unemployment rate and large amounts of excess oil production capacity around the world, analysts said a sudden upward spike was still unlikely, while others are predicting an immanent correction down below $70.
However, if you take a closer look, it is evident that the current crude oil market is almost entirely detached from fundamentals. Furthermore, there are several factors supporting oil rising to new levels, as fundamentals are out the window in the near to medium term.
Oil has been locked roughly in a band of $65 to $75 a barrel since the start of June as traders weighed optimism over the prospects for a recovery in global demand against a supply glut. (see chart below) Typically, the longer it is trading in a sideways pattern, potentially the more powerful a breakout is going to be.
by Zero Hedge - October 18th, 2009 5:53 pm
Courtesy of Travis
Gasoline-electric hybrids. So, you might breakeven in fuel costs in about ten years of careful driving. By then, the battery will need replacing, and to fix it, it may cost you just as much as your car is worth- or more. Are gas-electric hybrids really worth looking into? Well, that’s still debatable, and more on that, a little later… I firmly believe, and a lot of other “car guys” will contest, the gas-electric hybrid is an intermediate technology at best- a solution till something truly superior or sustainable comes along.
Mention “hybrid” to most German manufacturers, and they’d almost scoff at the notion. Since the late 1970’s diesel has always been their first choice in environmentally friendly, economical solutions to a greener automotive footprint, and they’ve done well with them. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi/VW all offer a lineup of efficiently powerful diesels to fit the bill, even importing a handful of models Stateside. But things are changing.
(You didn’t think Mercedes-Benz would ever pattern a hybrid after what? A Lexus? Please….)
Mercedes-Benz is the first to unveil the production hybrid that uses a lithium ion battery. The very same type of battery found in your cell phone or laptop. But isn’t this the same type of battery as found in the Tesla Roadster? It is- but the Tesla Roadster is an all-electric plug-in, a glorified kit-car in comparison; hardly a mass-produced, sophisticated road machine like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHybrid™- is the first hybrid ever for the manufacturer; in fact, it’s actually a “mild hybrid” with an electric motor kicking-in for a few seconds at startup, mostly. To note- even the use of the color “blue” over “green” sets this hybrid apart… But anyway… That’s just marketing. It is the first-ever production car to use a lithium-ion battery, unlike most that use nickel-hydride types.
Being a “mild hybrid,” its hybrid effect is subtle, with the thin, twenty-horse, 118 lb-ft electric motor wedged between the conventional 3.5-liter Mercedes V6 engine and the advanced seven-speed automatic transmission as found in any top-range S-Class…
by ilene - October 18th, 2009 5:41 pm
Courtesy of Michael Panzner at Financial Armageddon
I just got back from The Economist‘s "Buttonwood Gathering" in New York and thought I’d share a few of the more interesting (and, in some cases, quite enlightening) quotes (in no particular order) from the movers-and-shakers at the (well attended) conference:
Secretary Tim Geithner, United States Department of the Treasury:
"Generally, we did not do enough." (Referring to the failure to address growing concerns over excessive risk-taking in the period leading up to the financial crisis.) [Editor's note: understatement of the year?]
Stephen Roach, Chairman, Morgan Stanley Asia:
Those who are looking for a "V"-shaped recovery are in for "a rude awakening."
"The imbalances going into the crisis were large to begin with. Now, they are bigger than ever."
George Soros, Chairman, Soros Fund Management:
"Bankers have too much power." (Referring to the hold that Wall Street has over Washington.)
The "globalization of financial markets is built on false premises: namely, that markets can be left to their own devices."
Sheila C. Bair, Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation:
"Insured deposits are being used in ways that I don’t like to see."
Wilbur L. Ross Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, WL Ross & Co.:
People were focused on "risk-ignoring rates of return." (Describing one of the things that went helped bring about the financial crisis.)
If regulators had taken the time to visit a Countrywide Lending office, they would have seen something akin to "a Wall Street boiler room," rather than a bank branch. (Referring to regulator’s unwillingness to go out into the field and see what was really going on during the housing boom.)
"Government is its own systemic risk in the mortgage market."
Lawrence H. Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, The White House:
The root of most financial errors is "when you try to do today what you wished you had done yesterday."
"I can assure you that on Main Street, it is a very different conversation." (Referring to the contrast between the optimism on Wall Street and the more pessimistic mood of those struggling to get by in other parts of the country.)
"It is not the administrations’s view to bribe those who have been part of the problems
by Zero Hedge - October 18th, 2009 1:03 pm
Courtesy of Tyler Durden
- The best unknown activist investment of 2009 (Greenbackd)
- Words from the wise (Financial Armageddon)
- CME in talks to buy CBOE for $5 billion (Bloomberg)
- UBS warned U.S. customers by registered mail their account details may be given to U.S. tax authorities (Reuters)
- Goldman can spare you a dime (NYT)
- The extinction of ethics in finance – The Fallout (Reality Arbiter)
- China’s September data suggests that the long-term overcapacity problem is only intensifying (M. Pettis)
- As we have long claimed, others now seeing Wachtell as biggest BofA loser (BreakingViews)
- Good news on Wall Street means… what exactly (Matt Taibbi)
- VIX posts worst losing streak in four years as Dow tops 10,000 (Bloomberg)
- Earnings coming from companies that are not merely recipients of Chinese and US excess liquidity benefits: may get very ugly quick (CNN)
- Look beyond usual suspects in countdown to next crisis (FT)
- Malone not in talks to buy NBCU, would be at a lower price (Bloomberg)
- Global banking body may be needed (Reuters, h/t Joe)
- Goldman Sachs: “Trading with advantages” (The Agonist, h/t news item)
- Overleveraged autosupplier Continental AG to sell junk bonds, idiots to buy (Bloomberg)
- Real homes of genius: An Economic Investigation of La Mirada. Median Sale Price, Incomes, Trends, Shadow Inventory, and the case for no Price Bounce. Mortgage Equity Withdrawal Home Value from $157,000 to $570,000 (Dr Housing Bubble)
- SG: Worst case debt scenario (The Big Picture)
- Ottawa’s bubble (Greater Fool, h/t H.)
by Zero Hedge - October 18th, 2009 12:37 pm
Courtesy of Marla Singer
A lone suicide bomber, on foot managing to catch unawares five “senior commanders” in Iraq where only the smartest and best organized insurgents are still alive to mount such action might be a three or four sigma event. A lone suicide bomber, on foot managing to catch unawares five “senior commanders” of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard by waiting by the entrance of the complex where they were to meet local tribal leaders… that’s a bit rarer still. Whisperings of western involvement in the incident are… still just whisperings.
One wonders, however, what strength Tehran will now have to divert to Sistan-Baluchestan near the Pakistan and Afghanistan to beef up security, where those forces will come from and what confusion the loss of senior commanders in the area will cause. All in all, rather an effective bit of work if you are in the force disruption business. Crude longs: take note.