Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bailing Out the Thimble With the Titanic

Dr. Steve Keen, the ever-insightful Australian economist who runs the Debt Deflation website, wrote an excellent piece in March of 2009 entitled Bailing out the Titanic with a Thimble. It essentially argued that the U.S. government's fiscal stimulus and the Fed's liquidity injections would be wholly insufficient to restart growth in the private credit markets, and so far this analysis has been spot on.

Ilargi and Stoneleigh, who run The Automatic Earth, have also been preaching this same message for several years now, and have repeatedly stated that the U.S. dollar and treasury market would be the beneficiaries of the debt deflationary trend. It was most recently repeated in Ilargi's latest post, Our Prosperity is Owed Back Plus Interest.

Yet, since late 2010, it would appear on the surface that long-term treasury rates have been inching upwards and that commodity prices have been going through the roof. This superficial trend has led many commentators to "double down" on their predictions of a Treasury market collapse and imminent hyperinflation of the dollar.

Some people point to sustained oil price increases as evidence of their predictions, but, as mentioned before, that trend has been wholly discredited as a byproduct of actual monetary inflation. It is merely a result of the Fed exporting speculative debt to investors worldwide, who fully take advantage of the "speculative" part by betting on increases in the prices of equities and commodities.

Other people have been focusing more on the treasury market aspect, pointing to Pimco's net short position on U.S. Treasuries and the brief trend of rate increases as evidence of imminent chaos in the market. Of course, they can also point to the fact that the federal government is running record deficits to allegedly support the private economy, with no real end in sight.

As The Automatic Earth has cautioned, however, what matters most right now are the systemic dynamics of deterioration in private finances and social mood, rather than the fundamentally unsustainable nature of deficit spending. A major component of these dynamics is the monetary objectives and policies that will be undertaken by financial elites through their proxy, the Federal Reserve.

Last week I wrote two pieces regarding this component, Jumping the Treasury Shark and Bill Gross: Master of Monetary Psy-Ops), and, specifically, about why the elites desperately want to maintain stability in the Treasury market, and how Pimco's sharp reduction in Treasury exposure is most likely not a long-term bet against the market.

Today, we get a dose of healthy confirmation through a video report by Eric deCarbonnel at Market Skeptics, entitled:

FRAUD: Federal Reserve Is Selling Put Options On Treasury Bonds To Drive Down Yields:

It is featured in a Tyler Durden piece on Zero Hedge named Doubling Down To (DXY) Zero: Has The Fed, In Its Stealthy Synthetic Bet To Keep Long-Term Yields Low, Become The Next AIG?. In essence, it reveals some strong evidence to suggest that the Federal Reserve is already, or is actively considering selling large amounts of protection against treasury rate increases (Put Options) to various investors as a means of controlling the long end of the treasury curve (which, as per deCarbonnel, is illegal). Indeed, the Fed actually used this shell tactic back in 2000, as explained by Vince Reinhart, who was Fed secretary and economist at the time [1]:

The System has also been willing to put its balance sheet at risk to encourage appropriate expectations about interest rates or to calm fears about funds availability. As plotted at the top right, the Desk sold options on RPs for the weeks around the century date change that totaled nearly $0.5 trillion of notional value. Given that the Desk already operates in all segments of the Treasury market, we wouldn’t have to move up a learning curve if instructed to increase purchases of longer-dated issues.

We find out that there is, in fact, no need for the Fed to "move up the learning curve", step up its game and scale up the walls of the treasury curve with multiple trillions worth of gross sales of interest rate swaptions. That essentially means that there is no desire on the part of financial elites to let long-term rates rise significantly or to let the Treasury market destabilize, and, on top of that, they are in the process of leveraging themselves to the point of absolutely no return.

The question then arises, however, of whether they will actually be successful in "pinning" long-term rates for a few years, or whether "Operation Swaption" is a time bomb set to detonate within the next year, when rates significantly increase in response to sovereign default and/or inflation concerns.

The analysis from Zero Hedge would suggest that the latter is a very likely possibility, as implied in the article's title. Tyler Durden suggests that the Fed may be the next AIG, except without anyone big enough waiting in background to bail them out of their misery.

Alas, that [the Fed's printing press] will have no impact whatsoever, if indeed the Fed has been reduced to finding ever fewer counterparties to a synthetic bet to keep long-term rates low, as very soon, with inflation ticking up, all hell may break loose in an identical replay of what happened to AIG once the Fed's put is called against it. [2].

Durden is making the assumption that there will be ever-fewer incremental buyers of treasury bonds, and therefore fewer investors that would want to hedge their treasury exposure by buying protection from whichever primary dealer bank (most likely JP Morgan) is acting as a front for the Fed. He is also assuming that inflation will "tick up" very soon, causing rates to increase and forcing the Fed to make good on their massive bets, which they simply cannot do, because it would expose them as being the underlying counter-party to the trade. Indeed, that would most likely trigger a self-reinforcing dumping of treasury bonds and a set of events that ultimately result in a full-blown currency crisis.

There are two major flaws that I perceive in these assumptions, however, with the first being that price inflation, primarily for energy and food, will continue increasing as it has been over the last year or so. This argument has been addressed and largely discredited numerous times by The Automatic Earth, and even Zero Hedge itself has suggested, back in February, that the exact opposite may occur in the short-term. That article was the focal point of a piece I wrote shortly after, Exporting Speculative Debt, and it contained the following argument regarding a peak in total margin debt used by hedge funds, and the lowest level of free cash since 2007, when the latest credit bubble also peaked:

At ($45.9 billion) this number is just below the ($52.8) billion last seen just before the August 2007 quant wipe out which blew up Goldman's quant desk, and arguably was the catalyst for the beginning of the end. In other words, as we have shown, everyone is now purchasing on margin and the level of investor net worth is the lowest in over 3 years. Which means that should the market decline from this week persist and the Fed be unable to stop it, the margin calls will start coming in fast and furious, and unwinds in otherwise stable products like gold and silver are increasingly possible as hedge funds proceed to outright liquidations. [3].

That leads us to the second assumption that the Fed will not be able to "pin" down long bond rates because there will not be enough incremental buyers of treasuries seeking to also hedge their exposure. When global equity and commodity markets begin their downward cascade in response to the ongoing debt deflation and a temporary end to quantitative easing, margin calls will indeed be coming in fast enough to make your portfolio spin. The demand by institutional investors for a "safe haven" will emerge as quickly as the daylight descends into pitch black, and it will then become clear that the intent was never to bail out the Titanic with a thimble, but the other way around.

The bond markets of Japan and Europe simply can't make the grade, and, as referenced in Jumping the Treasury Shark, there really isn't enough gold to soak up all of that capital. Instead, the U.S. dollar and Treasury bond, because of their fundamental weakness, will be the refuge of choice and design, and this will also serve to aid the Fed's Mafioso protection scheme for controlling rates. The world has been flooded with dollar-denominated debt for decades, right up until now, and soon all of those liabilities will come pounding on the front door. And who will answer? Why, the Fed and the financial elites, of course.

They will invite the debt deflation in with open arms, because now they are holding vast sums of cash, and treasury bonds that simply cannot go bad. It will simultaneously be used as a justification for "gradual" austerity measures targeted at the middle and lower classes, as the public deficit will remain elevated to finance further bailouts of the financial elite class and brutal military operations for resources. The insidious shell game and unprecedented transfer of wealth will continue on, at least for some significant period of time, before the fires set by the elites burn out of control and finally engulf them.

No comments:

Post a Comment