Home » Posts tagged 'Zero Hedge'
Tag Archives: Zero Hedge
“Polar Vortex” Shock And Awe: The Utility Bill Arrives (And Why It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better) | Zero Hedge
The “polar vortex” shock has arrived, only this time it is not in the form of another 12 inches of overnight snow accumulation but in the shape of household utility bills. A reader was kind enough to send us his just received ConEd bill for the month ended Februery 10. The result speaks for itself. It also speaks for where so much of US household disposable income will go in first quarter. Spoiler alert: not toward discretionary purchases.
If readers have more dramatic instances of the “Polar Vortex” invoice shock, please forward them to us at the usual address.
And unfrotunately it will get worse before it gets better. On the back of a rapid decline in the “glut” of low cost natural gas (as stockpiles are drawn down to the lowest level since 2004) and the shift in forecast (that the freezing weather could last well into March), Natural gas futures are soaring (up over 10% today). This is the highest front-month futures contract price since December 2008 as “the possibility of periodic shortages now looms.”
Perhaps the only question we have after seeing the attached table, which shows that as of Q3, 2013 JPMorgan owned $65.4 billion, or just over 60% of the total notional ($108.2 billion) of all gold derivatives in the US, is whether the CFTC will pull the “our budget was too small” excuse to justify why it allowed Jamie Dimon to ignore any and all position limits and corner the gold market?
And purely as a reference point, the chart below compares the total value of gold held in JPM’s vault (registered and eligible) as of Friday’s closing price with its reported gold derivative notional holdings.
Finally, for the purists out there, we realize that gross is not net… until there is a breach in the derivative counterparty collateral chain, and gross becomes net.
The main reason Turkey’s government has been roiled with resignations, the Turkish Lira and domestic assets are plunging, the central bank is paralyzed, and pundits are ever more concerned about what the potential contagion effect is should the worst happen to the country, has been an ongoing scandal involving corruption at the very highest echelons of power as we reported late last year. So, what is a perturbed government, on the verge of losing legitimacy and credibility, to do? Well, following Stalin’s advice always works: “no man, no problem“… if perhaps not quite as “terminally” then just as decisively. According to Reuters the corruption investigation has been brought to a screeching halt, after Turkey’s government ‘purged’ both the judiciary and police systems, firing and transferring dozens of judges and officers and making it impossible for any ongoing investigative efforts to continue.
However, this may just be the beginning of Turkey PM Erdogan’s problem: “Turkey’s purge of the judiciary and police has brought a corruption investigation shaking the government to a grinding halt and could undermine confidence in state institutions, senior legal figures and the opposition said on Wednesday.”
Reuters has the details on Turkey’s decisive (if not yet final) “solution” to its problems:
Ninety-six judges and prosecutors were reassigned overnight, the biggest purge of the judiciary since a graft scandal erupted on December 17 with the arrest of businessmen close to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and three ministers’ sons.
Erdogan has portrayed the corruption inquiry as an attempted “judicial coup” orchestrated by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose network of sympathizers, known locally as “Cemaat” (religious community), hold considerable sway in many parts of the state including the police and legal system.
The government’s response, transferring thousands of police officers and seeking to tighten its grip on the courts, has brought sharp criticism from the European Union, which Turkey has been seeking to join for decades, and rattled investors, helping send the lira to record lows.
“Turkey is ablaze with the justice agenda,” said Metin Feyzioglu, chairman of the Turkish bar association.
“Everyone in the country has started to ask when there is an investigation or trial what side the judge, prosecutor or police officer is on,” he said. “The foundation of the state and the country’s legal order has been shaken.”
The roughly 120 judges and prosecutors reassigned since the graft scandal broke make up a fraction of the 13,000 working in Turkey as a whole, but the move has put sensitive cases on hold and shaken confidence within the profession.
The government’s party line so far has been simple: as explained before, “Erdogan has portrayed the corruption inquiry as an attempted “judicial coup” orchestrated by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose network of sympathizers, known locally as “Cemaat” (religious community), hold considerable sway in many parts of the state including the police and legal system.”
As a result, Erdogan decided to simply reassign the entire judicial branch!
Judges and prosecutors across the country – from Istanbul in the west to the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, and from the southern border region with Syria to the northern Black Sea coast – were reassigned in the move announced late on Tuesday.
The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), already headed by the justice minister and set to fall further under government control under a ruling party bill before parliament, said the 96 were being transferred to new locations. The government denied involvement.
“These appointments have absolutely nothing to do with our ministry. This is completely at the discretion of the relevant (HSYK) chamber,” a senior justice ministry official said.
The police fared similarly:
Nearly 500 police, mostly in Ankara, were also removed from their posts and reassigned on Wednesday, media reports said, bringing the total since December 17 to several thousand. Erdogan’s supporters say the police and judiciary are dominated by Cemaat sympathizers and that the government’s actions strengthen not weaken their independence. Erdogan himself refers to a “parallel state” within the judiciary.
But Aykut Erdogdu, the chief corruption investigator for the main opposition CHP, said the purge had become so broad that many of those removed were not even linked to Cemaat.
“We’ve reached the point where members of these institutions are unable to do their job,” Erdogdu told Reuters. “More important is the damage done to these institutions. It can take decades to build up competent staff to run the institutions of state. Moreover, it will take years to undo the memory of this among prospective candidates in the future.”
It seems that the people, at least some of then, aren’t buying it:
“While the government claims that it is fighting against a parallel structure, it is actually closing off the corruption investigations … It is taking away those who know their cases best. It causes a great deal of harm,” said Murat Arslan, chairman of the YARSAV association of judges and prosecutors.
“It is quite clear there is political intervention here … they are quite clearly intimidating the whole of the judiciary. It is sending the message that ‘you cannot conduct an investigation which touches me’,” he told Reuters.
Welcome to Banana republic status gents… incidentally Turkey is way behind of the US, where no investigation that touches the people in charge is allowed, while any prosecution of corporate CEO that are deemed Too Big To Prosecute is promptly killed by none other than the Justice Department. The corrupt Justice Department.
But importantly, unlike the US where the myth that one party is different than another is just that, in Turkey the people do have the power to replace those in charge:
Erdogan has essentially banished the army from politics in 11 years in power. His popularity seems as yet largely unaffected by the current turmoil and there is no sign of the summer demonstrations that shook his government reigniting on a similar scale. He will, in short, be trusting voters will flee towards the elected power.
And if voters support him, well, they too deserve the government they “pick.”
“China Expected To Announce It Has More Than Doubled Its Gold Reserves”, Shanghai Daily | Zero Hedge
The topic of China’s below the radar accumulation of gold is nothing new: first revealed here in September 2011 as part of a Wikileaks intercept, watchers of Chinese gold imports have been stunned by the ravenous pace with which Chinese customers have been gobbling up both domestic and foreign gold production month after month. One needs merely to glance at the net imports of gold just through Hong Kong to get a sense of just how much gold has flowed into the country which has now surpassed India as the largest buyer of gold.
But the biggest question mark since 2009, when China gave its last official gold holdings update, has been how much gold has the People’s Bank of China accumulated. One thing is certain: it is well more than the official number of just ovef 1000 tons.
Recall the confidential memo revealed through Wikileaks:
According to China’s National Foreign Exchanges Administration China ‘s gold reserves have recently increased. Currently, the majority of its gold reserves have been located in the U.S. and European countries. The U.S. and Europe have always suppressed the rising price of gold. They intend to weaken gold’s function as an international reserve currency. They don’t want to see other countries turning to gold reserves instead of the U.S. dollar or Euro. Therefore, suppressing the price of gold is very beneficial for the U.S. in maintaining the U.S. dollar’s role as the international reserve currency. China’s increased gold reserves will thus act as a model and lead other countries towards reserving more gold. Large gold reserves are also beneficial in promoting the internationalization of the RMB.
In other words, between 2009 and 2011, China’s gold reserves had increased according to internal data. One can assume they have increased substantially since then, however the PBOC, judiciously, has refused to provide an updated amount of its gold holdings for five years in a row: after all why buy at higher prices (if the world knows that the PBOC is buying at any price), when it can buy cheaply?
However, the period of stealth – and cheap – accumulation may be ending. At least according to the largest English-language portal in East China: Shanghai Daily.
The website, which cites an analysis by Jeffrey Nichols of American Precious Metals Advisors, reports that the Chinese central bank is about to announce its gold holdings have nearly tripled from 1054 tons to 2710 tons.
From Shanghai Daily:
China may soon announce an increase in its official gold reserve from 1,054 tons to 2,710 tons, Jeffrey Nichols, managing director of American Precious Metals Advisors, said.
The People’s Bank of China has not reported any increase in official gold holdings since 2009, when the central bank said the official reserve was at 1,054 tons, which accounted for only about 1 percent of its multi-trillion foreign exchange reserves.
The PBOC has been “surreptitiously” adding to its official gold reserves. It has bought a total of 654 tons in 2009 through 2011, another 388 tons in 2012, and more than 622 tons last year, mostly from domestic mine production and secondary supplies, Nichols said in a commentary posted on NicholsOnGold.com yesterday.
Central bank purchases comprise the smallest fraction of global gold demand — less than 10 percent.
“If China announces an increase in gold reserves, there would be an immediate drag-up force in the gold market,” Albert Cheng, managing director of the industrial association World Gold Council for the Far East, told Shanghai Daily.
China is the biggest gold consumer and producer in the world.
Combined demand in China in the first three quarters amounted to 821 tons and the demand for the whole last year is expected to exceed 1,000 tons, according to the council’s earlier statements.
Oh well: the period of quiet accumulation was fun while it lasted.
That said, we for one would be happy if Nichols is wrong, and if the PBOC were not to announce any time soon it has become the fourth (or third, or second) largest official holder of gold in the world. Because unlike clueless, momentum-chasing traders everywhere, it is always better to buy lower than higher: a concept which the entire Western “developed” markets and the HFT algos and sophisticated “hedge fund” investors that trade them, have either forgotten or never grasped to begin with.
Did you know the war on drugs is founded on racist principles? Prof. Stephen Davies shows the historical thought process behind banning drugs. One of the main reasons drugs were banned initially is because people were concerned drug use would lead to interracial relationships. Can you imagine someone making that argument today? Yet it was a principle reason for some of the laws banning drugs that we still have. Other reasons for banning drugs included fear of conspiracies and the misguided notion that the government somehow has a right to the productivity of its citizens. All three of these reasons are truly absurd, but all three were historically used as arguments that contributed to the war on drugs. If these are the arguments on which the drug war is founded, can we be sure it’s a war worth fighting for?
Last week we were the first to raise the very real and imminent threat of a default for a Chinese wealth management product (WMP) default – specifically China Credit Trust’s Credit Equals Gold #1 (CEQ1) – and its potential contagion concerns. It seems BofAML is now beginning to get concerned, noting that over 60% of market participants expects repo rates to rise if a trust product defaults and based on the analysis below, they think there is a high probability for CEQ1 to default on 31 January, i.e. no full redemption of principal and back-coupon on the day. Crucially, with the stratospheric leverage ratios now engaged in such products, BofAML warns trust companies must answer some serious questions: will they stand back behind every trust investment or will they have to default on some or potentially many of them? BofAML believes the question needs an answer because investors and Trusts can’t have their cake and eat it too. The potential first default, even if it’s not CEQ1 on 1/31, would be important based on the experience of what happened to the US and Europe; the market has tended to underestimate the initial event.
For those who have forgotten, below is a quick schematic of what a WMP looks like:
And as we previously noted,
…borrowers are facing rising pressures for loan repayments in an environment of overcapacity and unprofitable investments. Unable to generate cash to service their loans, they have to turn to the shadow-banking sector for credit and avoid default. The result is an explosive growth of the size of the shadow-banking sector (now conservatively estimated to account for 20-30 percent of GDP).
Understandably, the PBOC does not look upon the shadow banking sector favorably. Since shadow-banking sector gets its short-term liquidity mainly through interbanking loans, the PBOC thought that it could put a painful squeeze on this sector through reducing liquidity. Apparently, the PBOC underestimated the effects of its measure. Largely because Chinese borrowers tend to cross-guarantee each other’s debt, squeezing even a relatively small number of borrowers could produce a cascade of default. The reaction in the credit market was thus almost instant and frightening. Borrowers facing imminent default are willing to borrow at any rate while banks with money are unwilling to loan it out no matter how attractive the terms are.
Should this situation continue, China’s real economy would suffer a nasty shock. Chain default would produce a paralyzing effect on economic activities even though there is no run on the banks. Clearly, this is not a prospect the CCP’s top leadership relishes.
So the PBOC’s efforts are merely exacerbating the situation for the worst companies… and as BofAML notes below, this is a major problem…
The 3bn CNY Beast Knocking
via BofAML’s Bin Gao
CNY stands for the currency, and also a beast
CNY represents China’s official currency. It also stands for Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday for the country and the occasion for family reunions and celebration. But less familiar for many, however, the Year (?) itself actually stood for a beast which comes out every 365 days and eats everything along the way from bugs to humans. The holiday tradition started as a way for people to fend off the beast by getting together and lighting up the firecrackers.
At the same time, custom dictated that people also to paid their due to avoid becoming the beast’s target. In particular, it has been a tradition to settle all debt before the New Year. From the perspective of such folk culture, the trust product Credit Equals Gold #1, referred as CEQ1 hereafter, by China Credit Trust planned poorly for having the maturing date on the New Year, leaving a 3bn CNY beast running wild.
High probability for the trust product to default
Though the term default is used quite frequently, there are actually confusions on what constitutes a default in this case when talking to investors and especially onshore investment professionals. To simplify the issue, we define a default as failing to pay the promised contractual amount on time.
The product, CEQ1, is straightforward. It is CNY3.03bn financing with senior tranches of CNY3bn and junior tranche of CNY30mn. In principle, the senior tranches are also equity investment, but the junior tranche holder pledged assets for repurchasing senior investment at a premium. The promised rate was indexed to PBoC’s deposit rate with a floor for three classes of senior tranches at 9.5%, 10% and 11%, paid annually (detailed structure is illustrated below).
In a sense, the product is in technical default already. The last coupon payment in December, with nearly all the money (CNY80mn) left in the trust account, came in at only 2.7%, falling far short of the promised yield. The bigger trouble is the CNY3bn principal payment, along with the delinquent coupon, on 31 January.
We see high probability of default on 31 January
Political or economic consideration: ultimately, given the government’s strong grip on financial institutions, default may be a political decision as much as an economic decision. From that perspective, CEQ1 would be a good candidate for default. The minimum investment in CEQ1 is CNY3mn, much more than the typical amount required for other trust investment and 75 times of per capita GDP in China. If defaults were to be used to send a warning signal to shadow banking investors, this group of rich investors may have been a good target because the government does not need to worry too much of them demonstrating in front of government offices.
Timing: there is never a good timing for deleverage because of risks involved. But the current job market situation provides a solid buffer should defaults and subsequent credit contraction slow down the economy growth. The government planned 9mn jobs last year; instead it has created more than 12mn by November. So the system could withstand a potential shock.
Financial capability: China Credit Trust has a bit over CNY10bn net assets, which some analysts cite as evidence of the trust company’s capability to fully redeem the product first and recover from the collateral asset later. However, the assets might not be liquid enough, so the net asset is not the best measure. Based on its 2012 annual report, the company has liquid asset of CNY3bn and short-term liability of CNY1.35bn, leaving liquid accessible fund of CNY1.65bn at most. ICBC for certain has much deeper pocket, but it has declared that it won’t be taking major responsibility.
Career concern: To certain extent, the timing was unfavorable for another reason, the ongoing anti-corruption campaign. It is reported that there are around 700 investors involved. On CNY3bn senior tranche investment, it averages CNY4.3mn per investor. We do not know the exact identity but with CNY3mn entry point, we know no one is a small-scale investor. Legally unjustified, if either China Credit Trust or ICBC decided to pay 100% with their capital, the decision maker would have to ensure that he does not have any business deals with any of the 700. Because if he does, his career or even his freedom could be in jeopardy in the current environment of ongoing anti-corruption campaign and strict scrutiny of shady deals/personal favors.
Questionable asset quality and uncertain contingent claim: There are cases in the past of near default, but most of them involved collateral of real estate assets, which have at least appreciated over the years. The appreciation of collateral assets makes it easier for the third party to step in by paying back investors and taking over the collateral assets. This particular product involves coal-mining assets whose value has been decreasing over the last couple of years. Moreover, there have been multiple claimants on these assets, as exemplified by the sale of Yangjiagu coal mine. Although the mine was 51% pledged through two levels of ownership structure, only 20% of the sales proceed accrued to trust investors (Exhibit 1 above). Such a low percentage would be a deterrence and concern to whoever contemplating a takeover of the collateral assets.
Other cases less relevant: In the past, one way to deal with the issue was for banks to lend to shareholders of the existing collateral asset owners for them to payback investors, with explicit or implicit local government guarantees. Shangdong Hailong’s potential default on bond was avoided this way last year. However, in the current case, the owner has been arrested for illegal fund raising, making the past precedence less applicable.
Putting all the above reasons together, we think there is a high probability for CEQ1 to default on 31 January, i.e. no full redemption of principal and backcoupon on the day.
Immediate impact would be for China rates curve to flatten
The case has been widely covered in the media. However, many still believe one way or the other the involved parties will find a last minute solution to fully redeem the maturing debt. So if the trust is not paid, we believe it will be a big shock to the market.
China rates market reaction, however, might not be straightforward. On the one hand, default would likely lead to risk-averse behavior, arguing for lower rates. On the other hand, market players would likely hoard cash in such an event, leading to tighter liquidity condition and pushing money rates higher.
We think that both movements are likely to ensue initially, meaning higher repo/SHIBOR rates and lower CGB yield if default were to realize. We suggest positioning likewise by paying 1y IRS and long 5y CGB. On the swap curve itself, we think the immediate reflection will be a bear flattening move.
Interestingly, an informal survey conducted on WeChat among finance professionals suggests the same kind of repo rate reaction (Chart 1). We think this survey is important because we believe these investment professionals will likely behave accordingly because the default event is not priced in and hard to hedge a priori.
Trust company can’t have their cake and eat it too
Of course, we can’t rule out that the involved parties do find a solution to avoid default. However, with a case as clear cut to us as this one favoring default, we believe such outcome would send a strong signal to investors that the best investment is to buy the worst credit.
Thus, we believe the near term market reaction with no default would be for the AA credit to shine brightly since this segment has been under pressure for quite some time. Trust investment would be met with enthusiasm and trust assets would likely expand further.
However, we see a fundamental problem in the industry; the leverage ratio has gone to a level which requires investors and trust companies to answer some serious questions: will trust company stand back behind every trust investment or will trust company have to default on some or potentially many of them? We believe the question needs an answer because the trust companies can’t have their cake and eat it too.
For the industry, the AUM/equity ratio has nearly doubled from 23 to 43 in less than three years during the period of 4Q2010 to 3Q2013 (Chart 2). Some in the industry has argued that one should only count the collective trusts since other trusts are originated by non-trust players like banks. Thus, trust companies have no responsibility for paying investors other than collective trusts.
We see two problems.
Even if we accept the trust companies’ argument, it is still questionable whether trust companies would be able to pay even a reasonable amount of default. The growth of leverage on collective trusts was much more aggressive. Collective trust AUM/equity ratio was 2.7 in 1Q2010 and 4.7 in 4Q2010 (Chart 2). It rose to 10 by 3Q2013, more than doubled in less than three years and more than tripled in less than four years. Along the way, the average provision has dropped from 84bp to 34bp when measured against collective AUM.
As the case of CEQ1 illustrates, as long as full redemption is on the table, no involved party could walk away totally clean. CEQ1 is a case of collective trust, but the ICBC still faces the pressure to pay. If the bank is being pressured to pay in the case of collective trust default, trust companies will likely be pressured to pay as well should some non-collective trusts get into trouble. If trust companies are on the line for the total AUM, their financial condition is even shakier, with average provision covering barely 7bp of total AUM as of 3Q2013.
On longer term market trend
Based on the analysis in the above section, we see a possibility for trust companies to have to let some trust products default with such high leverage and so few provisions. This is especially likely the case given that there will be more and more trust redemption this year and next year as a result of the fast expansion of this industry over the last couple of years and short duration of such products.
The heaviest redemption in collective trusts this year will arrive in the 2Q (Chart 3). Given that the financial system is stretched thin and there were more cases of near defaults on smaller amount of redemption last year (three cases in December alone), we believe some form of default is almost inevitable in the near term.
The potential first default, even if it’s not CEQ1 on 31 JANUARY, would be important based on the experience of what happened to the US and Europe; the market has tended to underestimate the initial event. Over the last year, China appeared to be mirroring what happened in the US during 2007, the spike of money rate (much higher repo/SHIBOR), the steepening of money curve (14d money much more expensive than overnight and 7d), and small accidents here and there (junior tranches of a few wealth management products offered by Haitong Securities losing more than 60%, a few small trusts and now CEQ1’s redemption difficulty).
Theoretically, China’s risk is best expressed using a China related instrument, but we also think the more liquid expression of China goes through the south pacific. The following points list our longer views on China and Australia rates.
- We have liked using Australia rates lower as a way to express our China concern and we continue recommending doing so as a theme.
- We recommend long CGB and underweight credit product. The risk for such positioning in the near term is no CEQ1 default. But we believe any pain suffered due to overt market manipulation to avoid default will be short lived since it has become much harder to keep the debt-heavy system in balance and the credit spread is bound to widen.
- After a brief flattening on CEQ1 default, we see swap curve steepening as being more likely on more default threatening growth leading to easy monetary policy and more issuance going to the bond market.
- We look for higher CCS rates due to the fact that the currency forward will more likely start expressing the risk.
“There is an unresolved self-contradiction in China’s current policies: restarting the furnaces also reignites exponential debt growth, which cannot be sustained for much longer than a couple of years.”
The “eerie resemblances” – as Soros previously noted – to the US in 2008 have profound consequences for China and the world – nowhere is that more dangerously exposed (just as in the US) than in the Chinese shadow banking sector.
The fifth anniversary of Zero Hedge is just around the corner, and so, for the fifth year in a row we continue our tradition of summarizing what you, our readers, found to be the most relevant, exciting, and actionable news of the year, determined objectively by the number of page views. Those eager for a brief stroll down memory lane of prior years can do so at their leisure, by going back in time to our top articles of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. For everyone else, without further ado, these are the articles that readers found to be the most popular posts of the past 365 days.
- In 25th place, with just over 100k reads, was the extended profile of the puppetmaster of the biggest geopolitical event of 2013, the false flag-driven Syran conflict which nearly escalated into the world’s first YouTube “justified” world war pitching the US-led west against the Russia-led east, the Saudi intelligence chief: Prince Bandar, exposed in “Meet Saudi Arabia’s Bandar bin Sultan: The Puppetmaster Behind The Syrian War.” The war was avoided with a last minute gambit by Putin, which lead to a historic detente between the US and Iran, as well as an unprecedented breakdown in US relations with its long-time middle east allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. Look for the Middle East to make geopolitical headlines in the new year since the underlying issue – Europe’s dependence on Gazprom – remains entirely unresolved.
- The 24th most popular article hardly needs an explanation: “The Chinese Don’t Want Dollars Anymore, They Want Gold” – London’s Gold Vaults Are Empty: This Is Why.” The only comment here is that like above, the trend of gold’s transfer from West to East, started in earnest in late 2012, and peaking in 2013, is sure to continue in 2014 when the liquidation of paper gold in Western capital markets will afford Chinese buyers with ever more attractive prices at which to purchase physical gold
- In 23rd spot an “Unidentified Navy Officer summed it all up” when he said that “I didn’t join the navy to fight for Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war.” It is understandable why over 106,000 people agreed with the message
- The 22nd most popular article looked at “What Happened The Last Time We Saw Gold Drop Like This?” which compared the fall in the price of gold in 2013 to previous historic occasions, most notably the months just before the collapse of Lehman. For now, courtesy of the $170 billion in liquidity injected by the Fed and the BOJ, “this time has proven different.” But with the Fed now tapering, how much longer will the illusion persist? We, like everyone else, look to 2014 for the answer.
- With 108k views, the 21st most read post of 2013 revealed the “Photos And Video Of the Boston Bombing Suspects“, culminating the most violent terrorist event in years, and one which brought back vivid memories of the events from September 11
- It may seem like a distant memory now, but the shocking announcement from mid-March in which Cypriot deposits were confiscated without a warning, reverberated across Europe and all insolvent banking systems, especially since it is now the blueprint of how banks will impair depositors going forward. Then again, with over 112k reads of our summary “For Everyone Shocked By What Just Happened… And Why This Is Just The Beginning” we reminded our readers that the deposit confiscation event of 2013 was predicted on these pages nearly two years earlier, and explained why, indeed, this is just the beginning of the great balance sheet rebalancing. For now Europe has managed to hide its hundreds of billions in bad loans under the couch; 2014 will be a different story. Look for the Cyprus “blueprint” to see a much wider acceptance in the coming year.
- In 19th spot, mother nature reminded everyone with a “Stunning Time-Lapse Video Of 2-Mile Wide Oklahoma Tornado” that despite their sense of omnipotence, the central planners better pray each and every day that in a world priced to beyond perfection, that there are no material natural disasters. Because 10 out of 10 times, a liquidity tsunami generated from a central bank’s printer is powerless to withstand a natural one, as the Fukushima catastrophe reminds us each and every day with headlines of its ever deteriorating radiation “containment.”
- A long-time favorite of readers, Kyle Bass’ Japan thesis came one step closer to fruition when earlier this year Japan went all in on its great reflation experiment, described in “Kyle Bass Warns The ‘AIG’ Of The World Is Back“, a presentation seen by over 114K readers. So far Abenomics has been a failure with wages contracting, import food and energy prices soaring, a record trade deficit (yes, Abenomics was supposed to boost net exports), and of course Fukushima in the background, but for now everyone has a rampaging Nikkei to be easily distracted by. With Abe’s popularity finally tumbling, will his second tenure as Prime Minister be cut short, and would his departure finally force Japan to cross the event horizon of no return? This is but another question which we hope 2014 will answer.
- In 17th spot, we revealed some very disturbing trends in US energy consumption with “These Charts Better Not Reflect The True State Of The US Economy.” Because while the shale revolution may have revealed a (transitory) marginal source of oil, what remains unknown is why demand for energy in the US economy is tumbling in parallel. Unless, of course, the narrative about a US recovery has been a lie from the beginning…
- With 121k reads, in the 16th top spot another post that needs no explanation was “Stunning Images From China: Ten Thousand People Waiting In Line To Buy Gold“. Perhaps the only article that could beat this one is “Ten thousand hedge fund managers waiting in line to sell GLD”
- There are stereotypes about others, and then there are stereotypes about America. Which perhaps explains why over 121k people eagerly read “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” We can only hope they learned something.
- It may be forgotten now, but the biggest story of early 2013 was the Bundesbank’s shocking announcement in mid-January that it would proceed to repatriate some 700 tons of its gold held in central bank vaults in New York and Paris. Of course, the events described in “It Begins: Bundesbank To Commence Repatriating Gold From New York Fed” and read by 127k people, could be seen coming by Zero Hedge readers from a mile away: after all it was this website that repeatedly warned in late 2012 about the trials and tribulations that had surrounded the official German gold hoard. We can only hope that we were in some part responsible for the Buba’s correct decision to repatriate its gold. Then again, as we updated last week, having collected only 37 tons of gold in one year (out of 700), Germany will really have to pick up the pace if it hopes to have recourse to its hard currency before it is no longer a matter of convenience but one of survival.
- The 13th top article of the year was the release of the list with “132 Names Who Pulled Cyprus Deposits Ahead Of “Confiscation Day.” It appeared the Cyprus deposit confiscation was not a complete secret to everyone, but then again the Animal Farm “new normal” justice in which some are more equal than others is hardly a surprise to anyone these days.
- And speaking of confiscation, the 12th most read article of 2013, with 131k views was “Poland Confiscates Half Of Private Pension Funds To “Cut” Sovereign Debt Load.” It would appear that wealth transfer, first voluntary and then, not so much, will be an increasingly prevalent theme of the “recovery”…
- But the biggest stunner in this category was the impromptu announcement itself when on March 16, “Europe Does It Again: Cyprus Depositor Haircut “Bailout” Turns Into Saver “Panic”, Frozen Assets, Bank Runs, Broken ATMs.” Don’t worry though: Europe is now fixed, it is recovering, and, if one believes the continent’s unelected leaders, all shall forever be well. We are confident 2014 will show otherwise.
- The 10th most read article in 2013 dealt with the bedrock of the New Normal – the dollar’s reserve currency status, and rather, its gradual disintegration as China increasingly makes itself heard. It made itself heard loud and clear to the 142k readers who clicked on “Thanks, World Reserve Currency, But No Thanks: Australia And China To Enable Direct Currency Convertibility.” The loss of USD-reserve status will be yet another theme to keep a close eye on in 2014 and onward.
- Showing just how reliant on welfare the US has become was top article #9 in which a leaked USDA memo hinted of a “Foodstamp Program Shutdown Imminent” which grabbed the attention of 148k readers. For now SNAP as it is better known has been merely “tapered”, not fully shut down, although ensuing Walmart stampedes driven by EBT card glitches provided a glimpse of just had bad things could be if indeed nearly 50 million Americans suddenly found themselves without government backstops
- The troubles of the poor were hardly an issue for the 8th most popular article of 2013 in which we asked if “The Russians Have Already Quietly Withdrawn All Their Cash From Cyprus?” Once again it was the middle class that got shafted, while those who could fly in and out on private jets appear to have gotten away unscathed. This is certainly the prevailing theme of the past five years and one which will accelerate into the future.
- 152k people read the breaking news from April when “Large Explosions Reported At Boston Marathon; Numerous Injuries And Casualties.” The focal point of all watercooler talk for the next several weeks, the analogies to terrorist attacks in the past were unavoidable even if the motivations behind the attacks turned out to be far less nefarious and organized than initially feared.
- 2013 was the year in which the largest US city (to date) filed bankruptcy. However it was “25 Facts About The Fall Of Detroit That Will Leave You Shaking Your Head” that was read by 154k people, that made this the 6th most popular article of 2013.
- 2013 was also the year in which the stock market finally took out its previous, 2007 highs, driven entirely by the unprecedented expansion of both the Fed’s and the Bank of Japan’s balance sheets. What over 163k found curious, however, were the other economic comparisons to “The Last Time The Dow Was Here…” Needless to say, there is nothing in the economy that would justify a market at the current levels, or even levels far lower, if it were only up to the economy. Luckily, there Fed is always there to lend a helping hand. And what can possibly go wrong…
- 2013 was not only the year of the Fed’s QEternity: it was also the year in which Japan went all in with its own reflation experiment. However, all will be for nothing unless the troubling facts revealed in “Why Have Young People In Japan Stopped Having Sex?” remain unresolved. Because at its core, Japan’s crisis is a demographic one, and at the current pace of social aging, there will be no Japan left in several decades. Unfortunately for Kuroda, he can’t print babies.
- The third most popular article of 2013 was posted almost exactly a year ago, when it “Put America’s Tax Hike In Perspective.” Over 171k people realized just how meaningless in the grand scheme of things was America’s grand bargain achieved last year at this time, over much stock market huffing and puffing. Then again, the fact that all major decisions in the US are put in the can that is later kicked down the street is also no news to anyone. The only thing in the here and now is theatrics, theatrics and more theatrics…
- The second most popular post of 2013, with nearly 200k reads, was our succinct summary of the US “recovery” laid out in “People Not In Labor Force Soar By 663,000 To 90 Million, Labor Force Participation Rate At 1979 Levels.” We are happy that by now everyone has finally understood that plunging unemployment at the expense of a collapsing work force is nothing to be proud about.
- And in the top spot, with nearly 300k reads, our most read article was the satirical, sarcastic look at the Egyptian counterrevolution titled “Egyptians Love Us For Our Freedom.” Turns out…they don’t. But they certainly appreciate the irony of two-faced, hypocritical US foreign policy which was humiliated and left in tatters both in Egypt and in every other place around the globe where either Hillary Clinton or John Kerry came, saw and promptly departed in the past year.
So what to make of the world as we enter 2014?
With nearly $2 trillion in emergency liquidity pumped by the world’s two largest central banks – more than has been injected ever before – the entire world is floating on an ocean of excess liquidity, which for now has succeeded in masking just how ugly the truth beneath the calm surface is. Sooner or later, the tide comes out, as it always does, and the naked are revealed for all to see. However, this time it will be the very final backstoppers of the status quo regime, the central banking emperors of the New Normal, who are finally exposed as wearing absolutely nothing. What happens then, and when that happens, is anyone’s guess. We, however, will be there to document every aspect of it.
Finally, and as always, we wish all our readers the best of luck and success in 2014, and leave everyone with a promise of what we can be 100% sure of: Zero Hedge will be there each and every day helping readers expose, unravel and comprehend the fallacy, fiction, fraud and farce that the system is reduced to (ab)using each and every day just to keep the grand tragicomedy going for at least one more day.