Tuesday, December 7, 2010

State of the Market in Early December 2010

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


There is a lot of controversy currently on whether the markets are bullish or bearish as we enter December. Most investors are on the bullish side, yet there are voices of caution saying the market has gotten too frothy. There is substantial evidence that the market is indeed over done on the upside. Yet, there is a case to be made that it can get even more overpriced.


The first thing investors should note is that the U.S. stock market has entered a period of volatility, with the Dow Jones Industrials commonly going up or down more than 100 points in a day. Such wild swings are not healthy for a market. They indicate indecision on the part of traders. The market, like everything else, will eventually break if it is bent too much.

Certainly investors are generally very bullish, probably much too bullish at this point. At the end of November, Investors Intelligence had the bulls at over 55% and the bears at around 21%. These are classical points where the market frequently turns. When too many people become bullish, there is eventually no one else to buy and too many bears mean there is no one else to sell. A recent global survey supports this view with large money managers having only 3% of their funds in cash – the lowest level ever recorded. The large funds, who move the markets with their actions, are basically tapped out and have no more money to invest. So where is the money coming from for the rally we saw the first three trading days of December?

Quite simply, it’s coming from the Federal Reserve. This doesn’t mean the Fed is buying stocks. It means the Fed is pumping money (newly printed money) into the financial system and this money is finding its way into the markets. For its current quantitative easing program the Fed bought $8.17 billion in treasuries on December 1st, $8.31 billion on December 2nd and $6.81 billion on December 3rd. Not only did this drive U.S. stocks up, but gold broke above $1400 an ounce and oil hit $90 a barrel – both inflation indicators. The rising price of oil is particularly significant since oil tends to hit seasonal lows in December and February and yet it is going up now instead of down. Higher oil prices percolate through the economy and lead to higher prices for a large number of items. They also increase the U.S. trade deficit, which means the government has to borrow or print even more money in order to fund it.

Despite the obvious inflationary implications of quantitative easing, the Fed consistently denies it will lead to inflation even though excess money printing has always led to inflation in the past. The original form of money printing was cutting the amount of gold or silver in coins. It only took a short time before coinage was invented in 600 to 700 B.C.E. before one of the Greek city states caught on to this idea – the government had over borrowed and wanted to pay back the money it owed with cheaper currency (this should sound familiar to Americans in 2010). Paper money was invented by the Chinese before 1000 A.D., but they eventually had to stop using it because they made so much of it that it led to huge inflation. The lessons of what happens when too much money it created go way back – yet governments continue to it over and over again and with the same predictable outcome. Yet, even though I have researched this extensively, I have not found any government that ever admitted its role in creating inflation. It’s always someone else or something else that is responsible.

Most market observers are bullish on the market because expansionary Fed policies should make stocks go up. We have not only had a zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) since December 2008, but the Fed is on its second round of money printing through quantitative easing. Under ordinary circumstances, the stock market should be rising. However, circumstances have hardly been ordinary since the Credit Crisis began.

We only have to look at what happened to the Japanese stock market to predict the long-term impact of current Fed policies. The Japanese have had close to zero interest rates for most of the 2000s. They also started engaging in quantitative easing. This didn’t keep the Nikkei, which was close to 40,000 at its height at the beginning of 1990, from falling below 8000 in 2003 and in 2008/2009. The Japanese made other attempts to push their stock market up as well – and these worked temporarily. Ultimately economic reality prevailed however. In the long run this approach is not likely to work any better for Fed Chair Ben Bernanke.

The current quantitative easing program of the Fed is not working as planned either. Interest rates were supposed to go down and so was the trade-weighted U.S. dollar. Neither has happened. Interest rates went up – and this is a negative for the market – and the dollar also went up instead of going down. Interest rates are possibly going up because foreigners are selling some of their large holdings of U.S. treasuries (the exporting countries are extremely angry at Bernanke’s policies). The dollar is going up because of the banking crisis in Ireland. The 85 billion euro bailout there has not calmed markets because everyone realizes that there are major problems remaining in Portugal and Spain. Both countries deny they need a bailout, but so did Ireland right up to the last minute.

The market is also rising on economic data that is being reported as ‘good’. This is mostly wishful thinking on the part of the mass media and the government press releases that they publish without much examination or by putting in context. Auto sales and consumer confidence have been two oft cited pieces of evidence of an improving economy.

Auto sales which are supposedly taking place at a rate of 12.2 million a year have frequently been brought up as evidence of a recovering economy. At the bottom of the Credit Crisis, when the economy literally stopped dead in it tracks, auto sales were approximately 10 million a year and at the top they were 17 million a year. So, they are indeed doing better than they did when the economy was completely frozen (whether this can be referred to as a recovery is quite another matter). The improvement in auto sales taking place now though is nothing compared to the increases in the 1930s during the Great Depression, which lasted for many years after the first big increases in auto sales were reported.

Consumer confidence rising to the 54 level also got a lot of hype. The number needs to be over 90 to indicate an economy that is doing just OK. The number during a boom would be well over 100. The slight chances in this figure are nothing but statistical noise – meaningless changes caused by random movements. What caused the slight increase were consumers becoming more confident about the future state of the economy. This is not surprising since they keep reading in the papers and hearing on TV that the economy is getting better, even though they don’t see it in the everyday lives. The ‘present conditions’ number is still at an incredibly low 24. It has been stuck around this level for a quite a long time.

The November employment figures last Friday also threw some cold water on the economic recovery scenario. The government admitted to unemployment rising to a rate of 9.8%. The underemployment rate, which includes some discouraged workers and people forced to work part time was 17.0%. There has been little change in these figures during 2010. Investors should remember that the stimulus bill from early 2009 was supposed to prevent unemployment from rising above 8.0%. The Fed’s first round of quantitative easing was also supposed to fix the economy. Even though both failed, Washington is one of the few places where lack of success isn’t a reason for not repeating an action.

The failure of Washington’s policies can be seen by how little the GDP improved despite the massive stimulus that has been applied. In fiscal year 2010 (ending September 30th), the U.S. ran a budget deficit of 1,290 billion dollars (or $1.29 trillion). During the same time period, the GDP increased by 635.5 billion dollars or slightly less than half of the budget deficit. So for every two dollars being run in deficits, the U.S. is getting less than a dollar of economic growth (and this is with a zero interest rates on Fed funds, the return would diminish as interest rates got higher). The borrowed money for the deficit still has to be paid back or reduced by creating inflation. There is no way the U.S. will be able to pay back its national debt (the accumulation of all the annual deficits) and the higher the total becomes the greater the inflation that will eventually be necessary to deal with it.

At the moment, the U.S. stock market looks like it could be topping. Along with the volatility, the technical indicators, such as the RSI, MACD and DMI are fairly negative. The Dow industrial Average broke below its 50-day moving average in late November, but rose above it on December 1st. The Dow is leading the market down and it should be watched for the future direction of the market. The other major indices – the S&P 500, the Nasdaq and the small cap Russell 2000 - have still managed to stay above their simple 50-day moving averages. Until all the indices have fallen below their 50-day moving averages, the stock market should still be considered to be in an uptrend.

While there will always be some stocks that go up no matter how bad the market, at the moment, it is a generally a good idea to avoid buying any more stocks or commodity ETFs. The upside profit potential is probably limited. If you have large profits, you should consider taking some money off the table. The classic trading rule of thumb is that if you have a 100% profit in something, you should sell half of your position. It also a good idea to keep reasonable stops (an automatic sell at a price you have selected before hand). What is a reasonable stop depends on how much profit you are willing to potentially give up.

If you have a large portfolio and wish to hedge it or you just want to take a short position on the market, you can do so by buying the VXX, the ETF for the VIX (the volatility index). The VXX is not perfect because it unfortunately doesn’t precisely track the VIX. The big advantage of the VIX is that when it gets very low, there is limited downside risk of loss (shorting a stock can have an infinite risk of loss). In the current environment, a VIX around 18 or below seems to be a good buy. It is possible that the VIX still has to fill a gap in the 16s to 17s. If this happens - and it may not – this should be considered a very good buy point. Like all investment positions, it’s generally not a good idea to buy 100% of the position you ultimately want all at once. Buying on days when the market is up a lot is the best approach.

Investors should be cautious at this point. The bullishness seems overdone and things always look best at a top. The market could indeed go higher, but a lot of risk is being taken on to make whatever extra money can be made. If you are a day trader or very short-term trader, this can be a profitable time for you. For position traders, with a trade horizon of several months or more, this is not the best of times for additional long positions.


Disclosure: Own VXX.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. Investing is risky and the possibility of loss always exists. The above content should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any security.




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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Did Gold Peak on Octobler 18th?

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Gold as measured by the ETF GLD fell 3.2% in New York trading on Tuesday. Its chart looks very similar to December 2009 when it experienced an intermediate peak.

Early last December, gold had been rallying for three months. Sentiment was extremely bullish. GLD (and SGOL and IAU, the other ETFs which hold physical gold) was well above its simple 50-day moving average. The technical indicator RSI had become extremely overbought on the daily charts in late November, rising above 80. After a slight dip below 80, the RSI then rose to a merely overbought 80 as the price of gold hit a higher high. This negative divergence signaled the gold rally was done for the next few months. Gold then gapped down and had a sharp drop with the RSI quickly fallingl toward a neutral 50. 

More recently, gold has been rallying since late July. Sentiment has been extremely bullish for quite awhile. Gold has been trading well above its simple 50-day moving average. Gold became overbought by the last week of September and entered extremely overbought territory on the daily charts at the end of the month with the RSI rising above 80. By early October, the RSI was even higher. Then there was a quick dip below 80 and the RSI rose and hit 80 while the price of gold hitting new highs. The negative divergence once again signaled trouble. On Tuesday, gold gapped down and had a sharp drop. The RSI had even a bigger drop falling toward 50. The pattern is almost identical to December's, although gold was a bit more overbought and overbought for a longer period this time around. 


If gold follows last December's pattern, it will fall toward its simple 200-day moving average. For longer term holders, this is not a significant move. Shorter term position traders should be more concerned. Regardless of your investing time frame, this doesn't look like a good time to add to positions. In long-term bull markets, and gold has been in a long-term bull market since 2001, investors should add to positions when the price of an asset is around its 200-day moving average.  

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

There is no intention in this article to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Foreclosure-Gate Scandal Widens

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


After the Obama administration has failed to take action in the foreclosure crisis, up to forty state's attorney generals are now planning to launch a joint investigation into a massive number of robo-perjuries committed by big U.S. banks. So far, partially government owned GMAC, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Litton Loan Servicing, a division of Goldman Sachs, have been implicated in 150 pre-trial depositions in a Florida court case. In these depositions, bank employees admitted to having provided sworn court testimony about documents they didn't read and wouldn't have understood even if they had read them.

The Florida case involves 3,000 homeowners facing foreclosure. The "foreclosure experts" who signed notarized court documents that were key elements of perhaps hundreds of thousands of foreclosures had formerly been hair stylists, factory workers, and Walmart floor workers. They were provided with no formal training. It seems that many of these "foreclosure experts" knew little about mortgages. Some of them couldn't even define the most basic terms related to their job. One exasperated robo-signer stated, "I don't know the ins and outs of the loan, I just sign documents". The signing being discussed involved notarized documents subject to the perjury statutes and something that most courts in the United States would blindly accept because it was provided by a major financial company. Apparently, some institutions don't feel they need to follow the law and the courts let them get away with it.

There is more than enough reasons to think that the same corrupt practices are taking place in consumer credit card cases throughout the United States.

Up to now, the Obama administration has opposed a national halt to foreclosures even though the epicenter of the scandal seems to be partially government owned GMAC. Federal officials claim that a moratorium would hurt the housing market and using incredibly twisted logic have stated that it would distract lenders from 'helping' borrowers that face foreclosure. The program they are alluding to, HAMP (Home Affordable Mortgage Program), is generally acknowledged to have been a significant failure. It is beyond amazing that something which could turn out to be the biggest organized fraud in the history of the United States doesn't seem to bother Obama and his people. Apparently, the federal government is one of those institutions that doesn't think that it needs to pay attention to the law either.

Other than the obvious political implications, the recent revelations could mean a lot of lawsuits are launched at every level of the home loan process. The holders of bonds consisting of securitized home loans could potentially be at risk with the value of these loans plummeting once again as happened during the Credit Crisis. It will probably be much harder to do another bailout this time around however.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Foreclosure Crisis Has Much Broader Implications

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


According to international economist Hernando De Soto, one of the key differences between an undeveloped economy and a developed one is clarity of ownership of real estate. The recently emerging foreclosure crisis in the United States indicates a movement toward the the third world model.

There is still a large overhang of U.S. properties with severe mortgage delinquencies and this problem is likely to continue for several more years. As early as three years ago however, problems with implementing the foreclosure process became evident. During the housing bubble, banks became sloppy and didn't properly transfer ownership papers when loans were securitized into bonds. The current owners of those bonds frequently can't produce the appropriate documents in foreclosures cases in the 23 states that require court action for a foreclosure. This led to the 'show me the note' movement after a federal judge ruled in 2007 that Deutsche Bank lacked standing in 14 foreclosure cases because it could not produce the relevant documents. A number of similar judicial rulings followed.

The banks have gotten around this problem by producing notarized affidavits from 'expert' witnesses who claim they have thoroughly reviewed a packet of documents related to an individual foreclosure and that they are valid and complete. One such 'expert' was Jeffrey Stephan, who has admitted under oath to having signed off on the documents for 10,000 foreclosure cases per month for the last five years. Mr. Stephan not only did this for GMAC (its parent Ally Financial is 56% owned by the U.S. government), but also for J.P. Morgan Chase and numerous other banks. This process is now being called robo-signing. It should be referred to as robo-perjury. While I am not a lawyer, it would seem to me that a number of other possible crimes might also be involved here as well, such as racketeering and criminal conspiracy Whatever criminal activity took place, a majority government owned enterprise participated in it. 

Readers should ask themselves if there is any reason to think that the big banks are acting any differently in their other consumer credit cases, such as defaults on credit cards.

The revelations from GMAC loan officer Stephan have caused a foreclosure moratorium to be put into effect by a number of lenders. The lenders were apparently shocked to find out that one person couldn't actually read and thoroughly review 10,000 legally dense document packets per month. Apparently none of the 'brilliant' members of the U.S. judiciary caught on either. Yes, it would certainly have taken a legal genius of Clarence Darrow's caliber to figure out that something that was impossible just couldn't happen. GMAC was the first to stop foreclosures in the 23 judicial states (those that require court cases for foreclosure). J.P. Morgan Chase followed. On October 8th, Bank of America suspended foreclosure activity in all 50 states.

Interestingly, the current administration is opposed to a foreclosure freeze. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, employees of J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs were three of the largest sources of funds for Obama's 2008 presidential bid. Only a cynic would think that this would have something to do with his administration's pro-bank view in the foreclosure crisis. Some might even claim that it looks like everything is being done to further the interests of a economic and political elite, just as happens in a corrupt third world country. If this were true, the banks won't be punished for flagrantly disregarding the rule of law, since it is only the little people that need to worry about such niceties.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let Them Eat Quantitative Easing

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Grain prices soared on the Chicago futures exchanges on Friday. A report from the USDA stating that there would be lower inventories was cited as the cause. Quantitative easing from the Fed was behind the extent of the move however. Commodities are priced in dollars and with more of them floating around; any piece of negative news can cause food prices to go through the roof.

Food prices were already rising during the summer because Russia had halted wheat exports due to a severe drought. On Friday, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) cuts its crop estimates for the U.S. for second month in a row. The corn crop is now expected to be 3.4% lower than last year. The soybean crop is still expected to be good, but will come in 2.2% less than last month's prediction. The USDA now says global wheat inventories will be 1.8% lower than they thought in September.

While these changes seem minor, as would be expected in a market with too much money floating around because of the Fed, the impact on prices was explosive. December corn futures rose 8.5%. Soybeans were up 3.9% on the day. Both are used as animal feeds and this raises prices for producers. Shares of some of the big meat companies fell sharply in response. Consumers should expect higher prices at the store.

Analysts are now concerned about another food crisis, like the one in 2007 and 2008. Food prices got out of control back then and a number of countries stopped grain exports to insure adequate supplies for their domestic markets. This is only one of the many potential downside risks of Ben Bernanke's new quantitative easing program. Bernanke continually insists there is no inflation however, just as he continually insisted that subprime loans wouldn't cause any problem with the economy. Like a modern day Marie Antoinette, if bread prices become too high he is likely to suggest the peasants eat cake. They are already eating his quantitative easing, whether they know it or not.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Friday, October 8, 2010

September Jobs Report Indicates Economy Dead in the Water

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


September was the 15th month with the U.S. unemployment rate was at or above 9.5%.  The underemployment rate, which includes forced part-time and some discouraged workers, rose to 17.1%. While the Great Recession supposedly ended in June 2009, well over a year later the employment figures have still failed to show any significant improvement.

Private sector hiring was tepid to say the least in September. While the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) claims that there were 64,000 private sector jobs added last month, only two categories dominated hiring - 'leisure and hospitality' and 'health care and social services'. Leisure and hospitality, which includes drinking establishments, added 38,000 jobs. It is perfectly understandable why people would want to drink more considering the state of the economy.  Health care and social services (the mainstream media always leaves out the social services part), which is the only category that continually added jobs during the recession, added 32,000 jobs. Why social service jobs are counted as private sector jobs is a of course a mystery known only to the BLS. Education jobs are also counted as private sector, even though most of them are paid for with taxpayer money. Many health care jobs are of course also government funded.

Government jobs actually counted as government jobs dropped 159,000 in September. Almost half of this was accounted for by a loss of 77,000 Census positions. Considering the Census was supposedly finished months ago, this leads to the obvious question: What have these people been doing since then? Another 76,000 jobs were lost by local government. The Obama administration's February 2009 stimulus package provided a lot of funding for localities to pay for police, fireman and teachers. This funding seems to already be running out. What will happen in 2011, when the stimulus money has been completely spent?

The economic establishment has told us that the U.S. economy has had four quarters of recovery so far and we have already in the fifth. Employment hasn't shown any recovery however. Up to now, the claim have been that this is because employment is a lagging indicator (something that only showed up in the 1990s after a number of 'adjustments' had been made to how GDP and the inflation figures were calculated). The employment lag has already been several quarters and it now looks like it is heading for several years.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Quantitative Easing Has Sent the Dollar Into Free Fall

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


The U.S. dollar has been in free fall since the beginning of September. The Federal Reserve acting in concert with the ECB (European Central Bank) is behind the action. Most other countries are seeing rising currencies and this is going to hurt their economies and the American economy as well.

It's become a running joke globally that the U.S. follows a strong dollar policy because the evidence so blatantly contradicts this claim. Things have gotten even worse lately with the dollar-trashing activities of the Fed going into hyper drive in time for the November election.  The trade-weighted dollar (DXY) lost approximately 6% of its value in September alone. It is not coincidental that the Dow Jones Industrials went up more than 10% during the month or that gold hit one all-time high after another. Stock markets rise when a currency is being devalued. All commodities are priced in U.S. dollars, so all else being equal; a commodity's price has to go up when the dollar falls. Rising commodity prices under such circumstances do not indicate a robust economy, they indicate inflation.

A cheap currency is indeed a plus for a major exporter. Currently China is the prime example globally of a economy that benefits a great deal from a currency with a low value. The Chinese yuan (CYB) doesn't really float, it can only have a small change in value during any given time period, so it can remain underpriced. The EU has now joined the U.S. in demanding China let the yuan have a more realistic value. China denies it is manipulating its currency however. If this is the case, it should just let it float freely on world currency markets and the value would remain approximately the same. For some reason, China is reluctant to do this.

Unlike exporters, major importers like the U.S. do not benefit from declining currencies. For more than four decades, the U.S. has followed policies that have destroyed its industrial base. The private commercial sector is now 20% manufacturing and 80% services. A weaker dollar will give more business to the manufacturing 20%, while hurting the service sector's 80% with more inflation. It won't solve the U.S. unemployment problem. At the same time it will damage the economies of exporters by raising their costs for commodities and the prices of their goods. All in all, it's a lose/lose situation.

The Federal Reserve's new quantitative easing program, first announced in August, is what is undermining the dollar and wreaking havoc in global currency markets. The euro (FXE) has recovered to the 1.40 area, but this is also due to the almost $1 trillion Euro-TARP bailout of the EU currency. The Japanese yen keeps rising and hit another multi-year high today. The Japanese monetary authorities have intervened in the currency markets to stop the yen from climbing, but to no avail. The Swiss franc (FXF) broke above parity with the dollar in August. The Australian dollar (FXA) is about to follow the Swiss franc's lead. The Brazilian currency (BZF), one of the weakest on earth for much of the twentieth century, is beating the stuffing out of the U.S. dollar.    

The big drop in the dollar is not likely to continue much longer (although the charts indicate there could be another leg down). It is already causing destabilization in world markets and could lead to another global financial crisis if it does. If Fed Chair Bernanke continues with his enthusiasm for quantitative easing though, the dollar could hit an air pocket and wind up much lower overnight. While the Fed's interest in quantitative easing will probably cool suddenly after the election, it may continue to play its dangerous game of chicken with the dollar until then.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Quantitative Easing Means Foreigners Will Dump Treasuries

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Stocks and gold rallied strongly yesterday on the news that Japan is doing more quantitative easing and remarks from Fed Chair Ben Bernanke that more quantitative easing (also known as money printing) would be good for the U.S. economy. The major, and possibly disastrous, downside risks were not mentioned in mainstream media reports.

Quantitative easing has been tried many times before in Japan. It has failed to produce any lasting results, which is why it needs to be done again. The Fed has already engaged in quantitative easing during the Credit Crisis (frequently referred to as QE1) and is also doing it again because it didn't have any lasting results. Moreover, it isn't clear that any positive results took place at all because of QE1. The Fed claims it was a great success, but hasn't offered any proof to support its contention. There is certainly proof that it didn't work. Exhibit one is the much higher unemployment rate that we currently have. Just the need to do quantitative easing again is in and of itself proof that this was a failed policy.

While the advantages of quantitative easing are dubious, the risks can be horrendous. The biggest danger is for a country with a massive debt held outside that country (this describes the United States, but not Japan) Printing money is inflationary. It devalues the currency of the country doing it. The trade-weighted dollar did indeed have a big sell off on the news. Inflation-sensitive gold hit another all-time high. Quantitative easing will encourage large foreign holders to sell U.S. debt and to not make purchases in the future, except for TIPS (treasury inflation protected securities). Even TIPS will ultimately be shunned because they reflect the understated official U.S. government inflation rate. Without this source of foreign capital, the U.S. cannot fund its budget deficit or its trade deficit. This would send the economy into a severe contraction. The only way to avoid that would be to print even more money...and then more money ....and then more money. Without the money printing, the U.S. economy would enter a severe depression. With money printing, the risk is hyperinflation.

The biggest foreign holders of U.S. treasuries are China, Japan, the UK, the Oil Exporters, Brazil, the Caribbean Banking Centers (off-shore money havens used to hide the parties involved in financial transactions), Hong Kong, Russia, Taiwan, Switzerland and Canada. Why would these countries continue holding U.S. government bonds if they know they are going to be paid back in devalued currency? Why will these countries want to buy more bonds in the future? According to TIC (Treasury International Capital) data, China held $939.9 billion in U.S. treasuries in July 2009. In July 2010, it held only $846.7 billion. It is also known that China has been selling long-dated paper and moving into the short end of the yield curve. Other countries would want to do the same in response to quantitative easing. This may be why yields on the two-year note keep hitting all-time lows.

The impact of the first round of U.S. quantitative easing shows up even more clearly in the amount of treasuries held by the Fed. At the end of the first quarter, the Fed held $5.259 trillion in U.S. government bonds - more than five times the amount of China, the largest foreign holder. The nightmare scenario of the U.S. having to print money to buy its own government bonds because it can no longer borrow enough money from foreign sources to fund its government operations has clearly already taken place. That the Fed is now doing more quantitative easing indicates a self reinforcing inflationary cycle is underway. Investors should act accordingly.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

ZIRP Failed in Japan, So They're Doing It Again

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


In what is being billed as a surprise move, the Bank of Japan lowered interest rates back to zero and is planning on more quantitative easing. Along with an unending number of stimulus programs in the last twenty years, Japan has done it all before. If these economic policies actually worked, it wouldn't have to be doing them again. U.S. policy makers are following Japan's lead.

On October 5th, the BOJ announced that it cut interest rates to 0.0% to 0.1%. Rates had been 0.1% since December 2008. Japan had previously maintained a zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) between 2001 and 2006. The U.S. Fed funds rate has been at 0.0% to 0.25% since December 2008. The Bank of Japan also announced a $60 billion quantitative easing program that will purchase government bonds, commercial paper and corporate bonds. Last month, the Japanese government announced a 915 billion yen stimulus package. The Japanese economy has been in the dumps for 20 years and stimulus programs, super low interest rates, and quantitative easing hasn't fixed it. Yet, despite encountering failure over and over and over and over again, the government still repeats these same actions with the belief that somehow they will work this time.

The Japanese government was the most important player in creating the country's massive stock market and real estate bubbles in the 1980s. The last twenty years has been the hangover from those bubbles. Incompetent government policy both led to the creating of the problem and then prevented it from being fixed. It took over 18 years for the stock market to hit a low (assuming it doesn't go lower in the future). Government policy delayed the inevitable, but didn't prevent it. Japan now has the highest government debt to GDP ratio (over 200%) among developed countries. Its debt is so high from its repeated stimulus programs that it makes teetering-on-default Greece look fiscally conservative. The inevitable outcome of Japan's actions will be collapse and not recovery.

In dealing with the Credit Crisis and its aftermath, the U.S. has followed Japan's lead. Just yesterday, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said the U.S. central bank should engage in more quantitative purchases of treasury bonds because it would "ease financial conditions". Moreover, Bernanke claims the first round of quantitative easing (also known as money printing) was a major success. The figures certainly don't show that this is the case. U.S. unemployment was around 7% when quantitative easing began the first time and is now around 10%. The Fed doesn't actually claim that economic conditions became better, since the obvious facts make that impossible, but instead claims things would have been much worse without their policy actions. How do we know things wouldn't have been better?  How do we know that things didn't become better in the short-term, but will become much worse in the long-term? We do know what has happened in Japan because of the same policy actions that the Fed is following. But like the Japanese, the U.S. Fed apparently also believes in miracles.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Quantitative Easing Will Raise Long-Term Rates

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


The two-year treasury yield fell to another record low on Monday, touching 0.3987%. The 10-year treasury yield was up slightly however in September, rising for the first time since March. Federal Reserve money-printing is behind both falling shorter-term rates and rising longer-term rates.

A survey by Bloomberg of more than 60 mainstream economists indicates they expect 10-year treasury yields to keep rising in 2010 and through 2011. Perhaps someone has been passing around some notes on the approximately 500 hundred year old 'quantity theory of money', which states if the amount of currency is increased without an appropriate increase in economic growth, inflation will result (and consequently interest rates will have to rise, with the biggest increase taking place on long-term bonds).  For this not to happen, the laws of simple arithmetic have to be violated. The Federal Reserve has essentially been maintaining that that is what has taken place for the last two years. Bernanke of course does not directly state that we have entered a new economic age where two plus two no longer equals four because he would be laughed out of Washington and even the never questioning U.S. mainstream media wouldn't print such garbage.

Bloomberg also reports that a survey of primary dealers (the people who buy the paper that the Treasury issues) estimates that the Fed will buy $100 billion to $1 trillion in Treasuries by the end of the year. According to Deutsche Bank however, the market has reacted as if $315 billion to $670 billion of quantitative easing has taken place recently. The Fed announced on August 10th that it would be conducting further quantitative easing this year. The stock market then had its best September in seven decades. Money printing is an easy way to juice up stock prices. And since there is an important election on November 2nd, it would make sense to think all or almost all of what is scheduled for 2010 will take place before people vote. It looks like that is exactly what is happening.

While the Fed's actions can make the stock market look good in the short-term (investors need to watch out for what follows however) and can make shorter-term rates like the two-year go down because of all of the buying that it is doing,  longer-term rates will go up if the market sees this as inflationary. The 10-year treasury is the bench mark for everything from home mortgages, to credit cards, to corporate bonds. Higher yields on the 10-year are a drag on the economy. The Fed has supposedly reinstituted quantitative easing to stimulate the economy, although there is little evidence that the Fed has managed to stimulate the economy very much in the last three years. The stimulus has instead come from massive government budget deficits. The Fed seems oblivious to the existence of a liquidity trap, a condition where increased 'money' generated from the central bank just moves around the financial system and never gets into the real economy. Under such circumstances, doing more of the same won't make things any better, but can easily make them worse.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Friday, October 1, 2010

More 'Good' Pre-Election Economic News

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Consumer income had a nice rise in August thanks to extended unemployment benefits (not regular unemployment benefits). The final budget deficit figures for fiscal year 2010 have been leaked and the U.S. is supposedly only in the hole for a massive $1.3 trillion. The ISM manufacturing index came in at 54.4 and the the mainstream press is citing a strong manufacturing sector as the reason the U.S. stock market had its best September since 1939. Altogether, this news could be summed up as 'stupidity you can believe in'.

By almost every measure except the headline number, the ISM report was a disaster. The highest number inside the report was prices paid, an inflation measure, which came in over 70. Prices apparently went up a lot in August. This component had the biggest increase by far, which wasn't difficult because only one other component went up - inventories. Inventories usually pile up because sales are slowing down. The negative big gains were more than matched with negative big losses in the report. Order backlogs, supplier deliveries, employment, and the production components all had big drops. Well, that certainly should have led to a big stock market rally all right.

As for the supposed improved budget deficit figures, as of this August, $1.377 trillion dollars had already been borrowed to fund the federal government in fiscal year 2010. This number would have been $115 billion larger (for a total of $1.492 trillion) if there hadn't been 'financing by other means'. Financing by other means had a big increase in August and is projected to have another big increase in September. There are also substantial 'off budget outlays'. See http://www.fms.treas.gov/mts/mts0810.pdf for the August Treasury report on 2010 fiscal year spending. Makes you wonder if the U.S. government is using the Enron Accounting Manual to do its books.

Finally, some people might argue that an economy that is dependent on extended unemployment benefits for increased consumer spending could just perhaps be somewhat troubled. Few if any of these people write for the mainstream press of course, which generally treated the news of an increase in consumer income and a rise in the savings rate to 5.8% as just more rosy news. If this is such good news, obviously the U.S. should institute ultra super extended unemployment benefits. After all, look at what these policies have done for Europe – riots in the streets and turmoil in the bond markets. The euro has been rising though and obviously this must be due to improved manufacturing in the U.S., if you follow the logic of the mainstream press. If not, you might just conclude that there is a whole bunch of government manipulation of the markets going on.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Eurozone Fiscal Problems Turn Violent

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Mass protests against austerity erupted througout the eurozone this week and in some cases turned violent.  Spain had its credit rating downgraded. Some yield spreads on peripheral countries bonds are reaching crisis levels again. Somehow though, the euro managed to rise on all of this negative news.

The left-wing union sponsored protests took place in Spain, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Slovenia, and Brussels, where an estimated 100,000 people marched on EU headquarters. Spain had its first nationwide strike in eight years and rioters clashed with police who fired rubber bullets into the crowd. Most flights into and out of the country were canceled. Greece already had slowdowns during the past two weeks, but this time the Athens metro was shut down and doctors went on strike. Supermarkets are seeing food shortages there. The Irish parliament was blocked by protesters as a symbolic gesture of closing down the government.

Spain had its credit rating downgraded by Moody's from triple A to Aa1. All the other major rating agencies had already previously downgraded Spanish debt. In Ireland, the government announced that the bailout of the Anglo Irish bank could push the Irish debt to GDP ratio to 32%. EU guidelines call for this number to be 3% or below. Ireland says it will go to the bond market to raise the money. The yield spread between Irish and German government bonds rose sharply on Monday, hitting a record high. Irish and Portuguese yield spreads had already hit record highs on September 7th, when Greek yield spreads were the largest in four months.

Currency markets reacted to the financial chaos and political instability of the eurozone by bidding up the euro and selling down the safe haven U.S. dollar. This sounds totally and completely absurd because it is. No trader in their right mind would buy a currency with the problems of the eurozone. It is more than reasonable to assume the currency purchases came from the government run Euro-TARP bailout fund. While the eurozone member states are telling their respective populations that they are taking away the free lunch they have been serving all these years, they are making it clear that they are still willing to provide a free lunch to the currency markets. Of course, one day the bill for that 'free lunch' will arrive too and when it does the currency markets will turn violent and ugly as well.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gold, Bonds, and Currencies Move on Fed Money Printing

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Two-year Treasury notes sold at a record low auction yield on Monday. Gold hit another all-time high on Tuesday. The Australian dollar hit a two-year high on Wednesday. Excess Fed money printing ties all three events together.

The two-year Treasury has hit a series of all-time low yields in the last few months. The yield at Monday's auction was 0.441%. The two-year traded as low as 0.40% around the auction. How much lower it can go depends on how much money the U.S. Federal Reserve continues to print and what percent of that gets recycled into treasury bond purchases. The U.S. has to fund its massive deficits in some way and this is one way it is doing it.

At the same time that money printing is lowering yields on U.S. treasuries, it is raising the price of gold. Just as the 2-year has hit a series of record low yields, gold has hit a series of record high prices. Money printing devalues currency, so more has to be paid for any given unit of gold. A currency losing value is the very definition of inflation and gold is highly inflation sensitive for that reason.

Of all the currencies in the world, the Australian dollar trades closest to gold. Australia is also a fiscally responsible country compared to the debt ridden basket cases of Japan, the EU and the U.S. So the currency should be strong as is. U.S. money printing policy enhances its value however. Overall, the Australian currency should become and remain the strongest currency in the world thanks to the actions of the American Federal Reserve. The same actions are trashing the U.S. dollar.

While the Federal Reserve and its mainstream economist toadies claim deflation is a problem, the evidence points to the opposite. Excess money printing has always led to inflation and things will be no different this time. The other thing that will be no different this time is that the government bodies responsible for creating inflation will deny that it exists and when it becomes so obvious that it can't be covered up anymore, they will then deny responsibility. Before this continues any further, you might want to pick up some hard assets and strong currencies.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Consumer Confidence At Recession Levels Again

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


September consumer confidence dropped to 48.5 from a lower revised 53.2 in August. The number was below analyst expectations. Stocks dipped sharply on the news.

The latest confidence numbers from the Conference Board show the disconnect between consumer perception of the U.S. economy and the spin being presented by officialdom is getting wider and wider. A confidence number of 90 or above indicates a positive view on the economy. The current number is lower than the lowest number from the 2001 recession. It is in fact barely above the lowest number recorded during any recessionary period since 1980, except for the recent Great Recession. Yet, government officials and the mainstream media keep telling us that the U.S. economy is in recovery. Based on their own experiences, American consumers aren't buying it.

The current conditions number for September came in at a close to a rock bottom 23.1. This view on the current state of the economy has yet to make any significant move up since the Credit Crisis in 2008. What caused the overall consumer confidence numbers to rise in the last year was the expectations component, which represents consumers' view of what the U.S. economy will be like in the future. After an onslaught of 'the economy is on the road to recovery' propaganda emanating from Washington, D.C. and dutifully repeated by the mainstream media, American consumers in 2009 started becoming increasingly confident that a better economy was waiting for them down the road. After not seeing this happen month after month after month after month after month after month, consumers are starting to have their doubts though. The expectations number fell from 72.0 in August to 65.4 in September. If it remains on its current trajectory, the overall confidence number will get back to where it was during the Credit Crisis.

Consumer spending accounts for 72% of GDP. Consumers without confidence don't spend. Consumers without jobs and credit don't spend either. Nevertheless, the government has consistently reported an increase in consumer spending taking place while total wages and salaries have fallen and available consumer credit has been reduced. The savings rate is higher than it used to be as well, which should lower consumer spending even more. But the rules of arithmetic and economics are different in Washington, D.C. than they are in the rest of the universe (the only other known exceptions are in government statistical offices in other world capitals). For some reason American consumers are choosing to view the world as they see it instead of accepting fanciful claims from the Washington con machine. If this continues, even stock traders might eventually catch on.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Was Window Dressing and M&A Driving Friday's Market?

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


The market had a spectacular rally on Friday with the S&P 500 up 2.1% on the day. It was unlikely the August durable goods report was responsible for the market's action, since durable goods fell 1.3%. End of the quarter window dressing from mutual fund managers was a more likely explanation with impending mergers and acquisitions news being another.

Window dressing is when funds buy winning stocks so they can show them on their books after the end of the quarter and imply they owned them all along. This has been a common Wall Street practice for decades. September has been an incredibly strong month for stocks. Although there are four trading days left in the month, so far September 2010 looks like the best September since the 1930s Great Depression. Which year during the depression depends on the index. As of Friday, the S&P 500 was up 9.7% on the month.

The U.S. markets were falling apart during the summer, but the tone changed dramatically after the Fed restarted quantitative easing (money printing). The Europeans have been pumping money at the same time through their Euro-TARP program. All asset classes - stocks, bonds, and commodities - have been rising on the liquidity flood.  Based on market performance, an observer would assume that the U.S. economy has not only turned around, but is zooming and problems in the eurozone have been fixed. Neither is the case. The mainstream press has done its best though to paint a rosy picture. It managed to put a positive spin on Friday's reported drop in August durable goods.

Not only was the S&P 500 up 2.1% on Friday, but the Dow rose 1.8%, the Nasdaq 2.3% and the small cap Russell 2000 was 3.3% higher. These are huge movements for one day. Trading volume was ho hum as usual. Despite press reports, economic news wasn't the cause of this action. Window dressing was likely the major driver, with mergers and acquisitions adding fuel to the fire. Too much cheap money is leading to a boom in this area. If companies don't see potential growth because the economy is weak, easy money lets them buy growth by acquiring another company.  The new combined company then lays off a lot of workers, which raises the unemployment rate and creates bigger economic problems down the line.

The big liquidity surge is well-timed for the U.S. election on November 2nd. The administration and its supporters are likely to be citing the good performance of the stock market as evidence that their programs are working. This has already happened in the past. The 2009 stimulus bill was also timed to have maximum spending in the second quarter of 2010 and not early on when the economy was in horrible shape. A huge 'Recovery Summer' PR campaign was planned as a lead in to the fall election, but lack of evidence of a recovery caused it to fall apart. The Fed then had to restart quantitative easing to paper over (quite literally) the problem and create some good news in the market. The good news should continue until November 2nd. It might even peak that day. We will just have to wait and see.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Time Saving Guide to Government Economic Reports

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


With a major election on November 2nd that will determine the balance of power in the United States for the next two years and possibly for much longer, there is a certain pattern that investors are likely to see in government economic reports during the next several months. In order to save everyone time reading dozens of these reports when they could have a gripping fiction novel in their hands instead, I have summarized them in advance so we can all just get on with our lives.

Economic Reports Before the Election:

The Commerce Department, Labor Department, BEA, BLS [pick one] will announce higher than expected numbers for [insert report name]. Analysts will be surprised, not because the headline number beats their purposely low ball estimate that they had chosen to help make the economy look much better, but because the report contains numbers that are so obviously false and impossible that even a retarded monkey with a drug habit would notice something was amiss. No financial reporter from the mainstream press catches on however. President Obama will cite the report as evidence that his economic programs are suddenly working just in time for the election.  "Finally we're getting a little something, a very little something to be sure, from that $3 trillion in deficit spending" states the president. "Fortunately, I won't be around when we have to pay it back. I'm going to let the next guy figure that one out." Off camera, the president will be heard thanking a lowly-paid government statistician that did a lot of work on the report for a job well done and congratulating him on his recent purchase of a new Lamborghini and a 28-room house.

Economic Reports for Two or Three Months After the Election:

The Commerce Department, Labor Department, BEA, BLS [pick one] will announce that the numbers for the [insert report name] were revised sharply lower for September and October. This information will be found in a footnote on page 8 of the news release. While no mainstream financial reporter will notice, persistent bloggers will want to know how the government could have stated that construction employment tripled, while at the same time housing sales fell to their lowest level since caveman days. Bloggers will also question how the earlier manufacturing numbers could have been so rosy, when so many people were living on the street and eating out of garbage cans. A spokesperson for the department will admit that numbers had been inflated by the assumption that there had been a huge increase in garbage can manufacturing and cushions for sitting on the sidewalk and it turned out that this just wasn't the case. "Who would have thought those people were so poor?  Certainly no one inside the beltway, that's for sure", she will go on to state.

Economic Reports in the Summer of 2011:

The Commerce Department, Labor Department, BEA, BLS [pick one] will announce their annual revision for the [insert report name]. It will turn out the numbers for the summer and fall of 2011 were much worse than even revisions after the election indicated. The evidence that the economy entered a recession before the election becomes pretty overwhelming. Nevertheless, no mainstream financial reporter will write an article on this news because they will all be on vacation. The NBER, the body that determines when recessions begin and end, will still not be convinced though and will wait until 2025 to declare that a recession began in the summer of 2010. President Obama will not initially be available for comment because he will also be on vacation - his 23rd since the beginning of the year - in some banana republic backwater. When confronted with the news on his return, the president will state, "It's obviously George Bush's fault." The American people will react by hoping they get a new garbage can and sidewalk pillow for Christmas.

Disclosure: No positions

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is satire. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Predictable Changes in Weekly Unemployment Claims

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Weekly unemployment claims increased to 465,000 last week rising by 12,000. The number was above analyst expectations, although it shouldn't have been.

Weekly unemployment claims almost always have a significant drop around major holidays and then rise afterwards. This happened right on schedule for the Labor Day weekend. The last major drop was around the July 4th weekend. It was reported today that the four-week moving average is now the best since late July. Somehow, mainstream media reports failed to mention the reason for this was because both periods contained major holidays.  The major reason for the holiday drops is that the bureaucrats responsible for processing the claims and reporting the numbers seem to take longer vacations than anyone else. Nine states were missing data for the week before Labor Day, so the numbers had to be 'estimated'. For some reason, this very important piece of information didn't appear in press reports either.

What the press did report was that weekly unemployment claims were suddenly improving and this was evidence the economy wasn't falling into another recession. This was an amazing analysis considering a claims number under 400,000 would be needed to justify that statement and the best number around Labor Day wasn't even below 450,000. Furthermore even the most casual examination of the claims data shows that claims have been consistently in the 450,000 to 500,000 range all year. So instead of reporting "Not Much Changes in Employment Picture" or "Weekly Claims Improve As Usual Because of Holiday", the press fell all over itself to report a big improvement in the U.S. employment picture. The only thing they left out was cheerleaders in the background and audio that intermittently said 'rah, rah, rah'. Stocks rallied strongly on the surprising news that seemed to indicate a strengthening economy.

Maybe the mainstream media had already pre-written their articles about the 'recovery summer' that the administration had promised and didn't want to waste good copy. As for the recovery summer, there was essentially no change in weekly unemployment claims, or in the overall unemployment rate. Claims are somewhat better now though than they were a year ago when they came in at 538,000. It took around $1.5 trillion of on-the-books deficit spending to achieve the improvement to 465,000. Apparently a trillion dollars of borrowed money just doesn't go as far as it used to.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Fed's Minimum Price Stability, Maximum Unemployment Policy

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


The Fed says it's worried about deflation and high unemployment. So in order to tackle these two problems it's going to do more of the same things that lead to them.

In its post meeting statement yesterday, the FOMC said that inflation is 'somewhat below' levels consistent with its congressional mandate for stable prices.  Since the official inflation rate is positive, this indicates that under no circumstance should prices actually remain stable in the U.S. It also means that prices have to increase by more than the amount they are rising now. This of course leads to long-term dollar devaluation and indeed the dollar has lost 96% of its value since the Fed has been in business. They obviously can't wait to lop off the remaining 4%. Having a worthless currency is obviously a good thing as far as the Fed is concerned (you might disagree when you have to pay $5,000 for a loaf of bread). Inflation-sensitive gold hit its fifth record high in as many days on the news and was pushing $1300 an ounce this morning.

It order to tackle the non-existent deflation problem, the Fed intimated that more quantitative easing - also known as money printing - is on the way. There is no case in financial history when excess money printing hasn't eventually led to higher consumer inflation and it has frequently led to hyperinflation. The Fed has already done a lot of 'printing' and the ever increasing price of gold is showing the dollar losing value right in front of our eyes. However, the see no inflation, hear no inflation, and speak no inflation Fed ignores the gold market. Instead they are looking at ever dropping interest rates - the two-year treasury hit another record low after the meeting. Falling interest rates are being caused by all the new money they are manufacturing because bonds are being bought with some of it and this drives their price up and rates down. Using some form of inverted, twisted thinking, they view a market reaction caused by excess money printing as a sign of deflation.

The Fed first lowered its Funds rate to zero in 2008. With help from the U.S. treasury, they have engaged in an expansionary money creating policy since then as well. Unemployment is now much higher than when they started these moves and is stuck around the 10% range if you believe the official numbers (if not, it's much higher). After the worst recession since the 1930s, the economy is stuck in neutral, if you believe the official numbers (if not, we have already entered another recession). So the Fed's solution is to ratchet up the same policies that have failed over and over again and they claim somehow they will work now. It is far more likely the Fed's actions will nstead lead to minimum price stability and maximum unemployment.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is the Bond Market Setting Up for Another Credit Crisis?

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Spreads on high yield bonds and U.S. treasuries are narrowing. Junk bond issuance is at an all-time high because excess liquidity is lowering risk aversion. Who is buying all the bonds is not particularly clear however. But don't worry, just as they did before the last Credit Crisis, the economic elite is telling us there is nothing to worry about this time either.

When there is too much money sloshing around the global financial system, the distortion shows up clearly in the bond market because it's an insider's game. The average investor isn't exactly trading credit default swaps in his or her 401K. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, less than $29 billion has gone into high yield bond funds in the last 20 months. Yet Dealogic data indicates that $172 billion of junk bonds have been issued in just 2010 alone. Spreads over 10-year treasuries are now around 6%, but have been somewhat lower during the summer. In 2007, spreads fell to around 2% and this indicated all common sense had abandoned the bond market. The inevitable collapse followed and at the height of the Credit Crisis, junk/treasury spreads were over 20%.

One of the major determinants of yields on junk bonds is the danger of default. The economy is in much worse shape now than it was in 2007, even though we were just told yesterday by the NBER that the recession ended 15 months ago (boy, that sure is a timely announcement). So we should not get as low as a 2% spread between junk and U.S. treasuries like we did last time. Less risk of failure because of government bailouts should not be assumed either. Few issuers of junk bonds would be considered too-big-to-fail and the government blank check for bailouts is either over or it soon will be.

There is also the mystery of why as more and more bonds are being issued, less and less trading activity is taking place. Bloomberg economist Michael McDonough recently reported U.S. treasury trading is down and so is junk bond trading. Trading in stocks on the NYSE is also down as the market has risen. So how can prices be going up when there is a greater supply of bonds, but apparently less demand?  This is not really possible, so there has to be missing information. Now who would have access to vast sums of money and the ability to hide their activities in the market?

A narrow spread between junk and treasuries is something to keep an eye on and to worry about. It is a good indicator of whether or not central banks have injected so much liquidity into the financial system that they have risked another credit crisis. It is not possible to say where the exact point is where the spread is too low, although it is now definitely somewhere well above 2%. If we haven't reached it yet, we are getting close.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is Too Much Liquidity Creating New Investment Bubbles?

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.


Near month silver futures closed at a 30-year high on Friday and December gold futures hit another all-time high. Traders are looking for a breakout on the S&P 500 today as stocks have continued to rally throughout September. Liquidity is the driving force behind the market's move and it is unlikely the Fed will saying anything in this week's meeting that will indicate a reduction in its current massive pumping operation.

Unfortunately, it's not just the Fed that has the money spigot open full-force; the operation is global in nature. This evidence of this is that a number of government bonds of various maturities hit all-time high prices this summer. In a free market, this would normally be interpreted as an indication of an extreme economic weakness and deflation. While there is indeed significant evidence of slowing economies in a number of countries, particularly in the United States, purchases of government bonds can be influenced by central banks and treasury departments and can even be done by them as well. This can create significant distortions in the market. What is going on is that a lot of the excess liquidity is being used to buy bonds that then pay for day to day government operations.

Inflation sensitive gold is a much better arbiter of whether or not there is inflation or deflation. The gold market is not completely free of attempts at government influence of course, although there is far less of it than in the government bond markets. Gold is not only saying there is inflation, but that inflation is escalating. The U.S. Federal Reserve says otherwise. Of course, Fed officials also said that sub-prime loans wouldn't cause any serious problems in the financial markets. Yeah, you can really trust what the Fed says.

Outside the U.S, the European Financial Stability Facility, also known as Euro-TARP, is adding significantly  to financial market liquidity. The facility is currently valued at 440 billion euros. All three major rating agencies just gave it a triple A credit rating. Yes, these are the same rating agencies that gave securitized sub-prime loans triple A credit ratings. Certainly there was no reason to think that loans to people without jobs, without income, without assets and histories of defaulting on their debts were unlikely to be paid back. The same level of intelligence and insight was probably applied to the recent Euro-TARP rating.

The cause of the global real estate bubble was too much liquidity. We all know the ugly collapse that followed. Government officials have tried to reinflate the bubble, but reinflating a just collapsed bubble is not possible. This became quite apparent this summer when housing sales in the United States fell off a cliff. Creating new bubbles in bonds, commodities and stocks is possible however. Excess liquidity could cause all three. The collapse that would follow would be much worse that the recent Credit Crisis. Why are central bankers taking this risk?  Quite frankly, it's because they are just not as smart as the people who work for the rating agencies.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
http://investing.meetup.com/21

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.