Thursday, October 03, 2013 – Don’t Underestimate the Idiocy

Don’t Underestimate the Idiocy
by Sinclair Noe
DOW – 136 = 14,996
SPX – 15 = 1678
NAS – 40 = 3774
10 YR YLD – .02 = 2.61%
OIL – 1.22 = 102.88
GOLD + .40 = 1317.70
SILV – .04 = 21.80
Well, we won’t be able to sift through the jobs report tomorrow, due to the government shutdown. There are lots of things that won’t happen tomorrow, but next week, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will meet in Washington. Ahead of the meeting, Christing Lagarde, the IMF Director delivered an assessment of the global economy. It’s subdued. Lagarde says “In many of the advanced economies, however, we are finally seeing signs of hope. Growth is looking up, financial stability is returning, and fiscal accounts are looking healthier.”
The impact of a slowdown on US Federal Reserve asset purchases had been expected to dominate this year’s annual meetings but the Fed’s decision to hold off on tapering has removed that focus. And attention will now turn to the spectacle of a government shutdown and impending debt ceiling default. Lagarde called the debt ceiling “mission critical”, because “the normalization of monetary policy affects so many markets and people across the globe, the US has a special responsibility: to implement it in an orderly way, linking it to the pace of recovery and employment; to communicate it clearly; and to conduct a dialogue with others.”
Late yesterday, President Obama was interviewed by CNBC and he warned that investors should be worried, saying “This time’s different. I think they should be concerned.”
It was a pretty clear message to political opponents that even their Wall Street benefactors are growing weary of this mess, saying “I think Wall Street can have an influence. CEOs around the country can have an influence. This is going to have a profound impact on our economy, their bottom line, employees and shareholders unless we start seeing a different attitude around that faction of Congress.”
Today, the Treasury Department released a report warning of catastrophic damiage if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling. The report states: “A default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic: credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.”

The Treasury report mentioned that even the prospect of default can cause economic problems, including lower consumer confidence, stock market volatility and higher interest rates on business loans and mortgages. An actual default could have consequences for years to come. The US has never defaulted on its debt, but the cost of insuring one-year Treasury bonds against default has quintupled in the past 10 days.
So, the president says there is cause for concern; the Treasury warns of a catastrophe; and the IMF says the debt ceiling is mission critical, and Wall Street slips a little, but apparently they haven’t yet figured out how to turn this into a full fledged panic. There is an air of complacency that might linger until the last minute. Warren Buffett says, “We will go right up to the point of extreme idiocy, but we won’t cross it.” Maybe, but I think Warren underestimates the idiots.
If the debt-limit isn’t lifted, the Treasury will face the prospect of violating one of three laws: The World War I-era statute that created the debt limit, the ban on direct lending to the Treasury from the Federal Reserve, or the 14th Amendment declaring that the legitimacy of U.S. debt must go unquestioned.
There may be some ways to circumvent default, but those options are all “iffy”, at best. The most widely discussed strategy would be for President Obama to invoke authority under the 14th Amendment and essentially order the federal government to keep borrowing, an option that was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton during an earlier debt standoff in 2011. Other potential October surprises range from the logistically forbidding, like prioritizing payments, issuing i.o.u.’s or selling off gold and other assets, to more fanciful ideas, like minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin.
President Obama will not invoke a constitutional amendment to unilaterally increase the nation’s debt limit if  an  impasse with House Republicans causes that ceiling to be breached in two weeks. White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said: “We do not believe that the 14th amendment provides that authority to the president.” The president, he added, “completely” agrees with his advisers’ legal reasoning. More specifically, this removes the idea of an impeachable offense. Of course, that doesn’t mean the debt-ceiling will be lifted; again, we should not underestimate the idiots.
But it all goes back to the complacency of Wall Street, which hasn’t hit panic stage but has been drifting lower. The Dow Industrials have quietly dropped 9 of the last 11 sessions, shedding 720 points along the way, to close under 15,000. Wall Street is concerned but not yet convinced of a catastrophic default, but also cognizant that the possibility of default forces the Federal Reserve to avoid the taper.
Earnings estimates have been slow in coming down. And the stock market, supposedly forward looking and focused on corporate revenues and earnings, has been completely blind to them. Fundamentals no longer matter. All that matters is the Fed. A shift that has become the Fed’s most glorious accomplishment. And the Fed continues to feed Wall Street with $85 billion a month. Step right up and gorge.

Yet in this infinite QE environment where there is no gravity for stocks and even junk bonds, the smart money is selling hand over fist, unloading whatever they can, however they can. Record junk bond issuance is just one aspect. Another aspect: IPOs. They have gone haywire.There were 23 IPOs in May, 20 in June, 17 in July, 19 in August, and 21 in September. But last week alone, there were 12 IPOs – more than two per day. And today, with all the dire warnings, Twitter announced its IPO. Generally, IPOs are scheduled apart to avoid overloading the market. But now the smart money is scrambling to issue paper while it still can and stuff it into the portfolios of retail investors at current “out of whack” valuations, stocks and bonds alike, before the Fed turns off its crazy money spigot, and before investors will finally open their eyes to the grim earnings reality.
Meanwhile, junk bond issuance hit a record high in September, at more than $47 billion. Year to date, issuance amounted to $255 billion, blowing away last year’s volume for this period of $243 billion. The year 2012, already in a bubble, set an all-time record with $346 billion. This year, if the Fed keeps the money flowing and forgets about that taper business, junk bond issuance will beat that record handily.

Junk-bond funds got clobbered in July and August as retail investors briefly opened their eyes and realized what they had on their hands and fled, and they went looking for yield elsewhere, but there was still no yield in reasonable places, and so they held their noses and picked up these reeking junk-bond funds again. Cash inflow doubled over the last week to $3.1 billion, the most in ten weeks.
These retail investors were fired up by the Fed’s refusal to taper even a little bit, giving rise to the hope that it might actually never taper, that this is truly QE to Infinity, Wall Street’s dream come true. 

The theory is that the Fed is mortally afraid that any taper would pop the asset bubble it has inflated over the last five years. Toss in the threat of a debt default and the Fed must have felt like a porcupine in a room full of balloons. Functionally, the Fed believes that the only cure for a burst bubble is a bigger bubble, so this comes as no surprise. They appear to be willfully blind that, in an era of plutocratic concentration of wealth, the old supply-side nostrums don’t work.
What else? Well, you’ll remember that in 2012, a coalition of 49 states and the US reached a settlement with five of the country’s largest mortgage servicers, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan, Citi, and Ally in an effort to stop abuses such as “robosigning” of documents used in foreclosure proceedings and to lower barriers to modifications of loans. 

Now hold onto you hat; the banks are still behaving badly. Wells Fargo was sued by New York state over claims the bank failed to uphold terms of a $25 billion mortgage-servicing settlement aimed at helping distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure. Wells and BofA were accused by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of violating the provisions of the national accord by continuing to impose unnecessary delays on borrowers seeking to modify the terms of their loans. BofA has agreed to mend its evil ways, but Wells Fargo just couldn’t get their act together.

Wells Fargo is one of the most difficult banks for distressed homeowners to deal with, Schneiderman said at the press conference. The bank sends “incomprehensible communications” to borrowers; he even read a letter from the bank to a homeowner; it was pure goobledygook. After months of discussions with both banks, Wells Fargo “refused to acknowledge there’s a problem.” 
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