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“Liquidity Dies In Darkness”: Trillions In Assets Have No Financial Disclosure To Support Them
While there has been extensive discussion of the passive/ETF/index fund bubble, most recently by Michael “Big Short” Burry, who most recently joined the parade of skepticswarning of the implicit and explicit dangers the passive investing bubble carries with it, perhaps the most interesting angle of the ETF stampede into fixed income securities — which include junk bonds and leveraged loans in addition to the recent frenzy for investment grade debt — is the fact that a substantial portion of it now trades with virtually no fundamental information. In other words, assets are being bought (if not so much sold) simply to accommodate the flood of investor money, with no regard for actual financial data or corporate newsflow.
This is highlights in a recent note by TCW’s Chief Investment Officer of Fixed Income, Tad Rivelle, who currently manages some $170 billion in AUM, and who writes that as a result of the above, “not only have the debt markets ballooned in size, but the growth has come disproportionately from those segments of the debt market where financial disclosure is poor.”
As a result of this, Rivelle observes that “If democracy dies in darkness, so does liquidity in that embodiment of economic democracy, i.e., the capital markets.” His conclusion is jarring: this lack of underlying information, while ignored when the tide is rising, leads to an immediate collapse in liquidity when the selling begins and results in a scramble for information, to wit:
When information is scarce, investors must color in between the lines. That which is not known nor well quantified must be assumed or modeled. The door is therefore open to different investors reaching quite different conclusions about the underlying value of an asset leading, of course, to illiquidity.
His conclusion is eerily similar to that of Burry: “the rise of portfolio trading suggests to us that passive funds have, heretofore, played an outsized role in the supply of market liquidity.” Yet while passive investing dominates on the upside, or when stocks are rising, what happens when selling commences is a liquidity discontinuity that leads to unprecedented gaps lower as passive investors are unable to discover price once there is demand for actual underlying fundamentals.
Here is the key except from his recent note:
The Debt Markets Have Already Gone (Mostly) Dark
If democracy dies in darkness, so does liquidity in that embodiment of economic democracy, i.e., the capital markets.When information is scarce, investors must color in between the lines. That which is not known nor well quantified must be assumed or modeled. The door is therefore open to different investors reaching quite different conclusions about the underlying value of an asset leading, of course, to illiquidity.
More so perhaps than any other in history, this cycle is the wellspring of the theories and actions of the central bankers who, in their infinite wisdom, determined that they could model interest rates better than markets could price them.Central banks have flooded the system with what they call “liquidity” but which are actually nothing more – nor less – than electronically conjured “loanable funds.” Under the banner of “doing whatever it takes,” trillions in loanable funds were created so that now $17 trillion in global debt is priced to yield less than nothing.
The magic trick of inverting economic logic with negative rates results from the capacity of the central banks to create unlimited quantities of loanable funds at no cost. Trouble is, while loanable funds can be created without limit, the things that can be purchased with these funds is finite. But, “free money” not only makes loans cheap, it also erodes the capacity of lenders to ask for such reasonable terms as traditional loan covenants and basic financial disclosure.
Traditionally, leveraged borrowers had this choice: borrow in the high yield bond market and live by the disclosure and reporting standards of the public debt markets. In the alternative, if management preferred to adhere to a lesser standard of disclosure, the company could issue in the (private) loan market and subject itself to a battery of covenants designed to limit the ability of management to engage in risky or lender unfriendly actions. Thanks to the central banks, borrowers this cycle no longer had to choose: they could obtain cheap loans without agreeing to restrictive covenants nor providing on-going financial disclosure.
Hence, not only have the debt markets ballooned in size, but the growth has come disproportionately from those segments of the debt market where financial disclosure is poor:
And the punchline: “While a paucity of financial disclosure is not problematic during a bull market for credit, it is a defining feature of a liquidity crisis during a bear market.Human beings are naturally inclined towards fear – even panic – when they are unable to obtain the information they deem critical to their (financial) survival.”
It also explains why, as Bank of America pointed out last week, with more than 5x the USGDP in financial assets, and any financial crisis would result in an unprecedented loss of (fake) wealth…
… central banks are now “all in” and no longer even have the option of not protecting asset prices from falling.
Those winds just keep on shifting, no matter that the western press either doesn’t see them shift, doesn’t recognize them for what they are, or chooses to ignore them. But these winds bring tidings of a tectonic plate-shaking shift in the global political climate.
The fires in Saudi oil installations, whether they were caused by drones or missiles, and whoever fired those, are a major story, and rightly so, because they could shake up economies in drastic ways. But they may still, not be the biggest story after all.
Last Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley (already occupied territory, 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live there). He did that to steal votes from the far right in next Tuesday’s (Sep. 17) Knesset election. “Bibi” also called Donald Trump his “friend” every second word for that same purpose. Trump responded in kind. He may come to regret that. Choose your friends wisely. Bit of background from RT:
The US and Israel are discussing a mutual defense treaty that would further cement the already “tremendous” alliance between the two countries, President Donald Trump has revealed. “I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries,” Trump tweeted.
Trump voiced not-that-veiled support for Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Israel. “I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!” Trump wrote. The support surely comes in handy, as Netanyahu’s backing appears to be quite shaky. The September 17 polls are the second snap legislative elections this year after Netanyahu failed to form the government back in April.
The outcome of the upcoming vote is hard to predict, as Netanyahu’s party, Likud, has almost equal support as their main opponent the Blue and White led by Benny Gantz, opinion polls show. Netanyahu was quick to respond to Trump’s announcement, lauding the prospects of the alliance and managing to call the US president a “friend” twice in a single tweet.
[..] Israel was one of the first major non-Nato ally (MNNA), a designation that goes with a whole set of benefits, such as generous loans, a priority in delivery of various military surplus, possession of war reserve stocks of Pentagon-owned hardware outside US military bases (Israel is said to have at least six sites) and others.
Yet in 2014 the US enshrined Israel into a new class of ally – a major strategic partner. The new designation, which is a step above MNNA, was basically established specifically for Israel. It greatly expanded the US wartime stockpiles in Israel from $200 million in value to a whopping $1.8 billion. Under the Trump administration, the trend has continued, and in 2017, the US established its first permanent military base – an air defense facility – in Israel.
A second thing Bibi is trying to do to win Tuesday’s elections is intimidating the prosecutors who are on his tail for three different cases or fraud. He has a grand plan to become immune from this prosecution (basically, become King Bibi), but he must win the election to execute it. Haaretz is Israel’s oldest newspaper, but it’s not Bibi’s biggest fan(club):
Immediately after the last election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined to members of his inner circle a plan to extract him from facing trial. The plan was based on obtaining immunity from the Knesset and passing legislation to prevent the High Court of Justice from removing that immunity. If his bloc wins 61 Knesset seats next week, Netanyahu will presumably resort to this rescue plan. For him it will be the Day of Judgment.
“Stop being frightened. It’s time for them to be frightened,” Netanyahu told his confidants, referring to justice officials, headed by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who have decided to indict him in three cases, subject to a hearing. Netanyahu told his confidants why he insisted on his destructive plan, telling them he had lost all confidence in the legal system on all levels – the attorney general’s office, the state prosecutor and the court system.
“They want me in prison,” he told one of his cronies, noting that if he were indicted that would indeed be the result – not because he had crossed a red line, but merely due to the jurists’ collective hostility toward him and his ideology. Netanyahu appears to wholeheartedly believe himself to be a victim, framed by prosecutors and that Mendelblit, who is weak, doesn’t believe in them at all, but couldn’t withstand the pressure.
In his interviews with the police Netanyahu acted like a hunted man. “It’s a wacky conception,” he told national fraud squad chief Koresh Bar-Nur in January 2017. Bar-Nur came to Netanyahu’s residence with a team of investigators to question him under caution on Case 2000, involving a bribery deal Netanyahu allegedly negotiated with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes.
And that wasn’t all. To court the right wing vote, Bibi also planned to bomb locations in Syria controlled by “Iran-backed” Assad troops, right about right now. And he needed permission from Vladimir Putin to do that. So he flew to Moscow, did a bunch of photo-ops with Putin to show Israeli voters he’s an important statesman, but all he got was a big load of coal in his stocking. Putin said: we’l shoot you out of the skies if you dare. And do note: this is not the first time.
In other words, Bibi was deeply humiliated one week before the election he so deperately needs to him to stay out of jail. Now tell me, which western paper or TV channel did you read or watch the news about this in/on? Remember, this happened before Trump announced his Mutual Defense Treaty with Bibi. By the way, what does that “Mutual” mean anyway, that Israel will save America? This is from Zero Hedge:
According to reports in both Israeli and Arabic regional media, Israel this past week was preparing to expand major airstrikes against “Iran-backed” targets in Syria, but Moscow imposed its red line. The Independent has published a story describing that Russia’s military in Syria threatened to shoot down any invading Israeli warplanes using fighter jets or their S-400 system.
The Jerusalem Post, citing sources in the UK Independent (Arabia), writes just after the latest meeting in Sochi between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin: “According to the report, Moscow has prevented three Israeli airstrikes on three Syrian outposts recently, and even threatened that any jets attempting such a thing would be shot down, either by Russian jets or by the S400 Anti-aircraft missiles.
The source cited in the report claims a similar situation has happened twice, and that during August, Moscow stopped an airstrike on a Syrian outpost in Qasioun, where a S300 missile battery is placed.” Netanyahu’s hasty trip to meet with Putin on Thursday – even in the final days before Tuesday’s key election – was reportedly with a goal to press the Russian president on essentially ignoring Israel’s attacks in Syria.
Citing further sources in the British-Arabic Independent Arabia, The Jerusalem Post continues: According to the Russian source, Putin let Netanyahu know that his country will not allow any damage to be done to the Syrian regime’s army, or any of the weapons being given to it… Israel sources cited by the Arabic newspaper described Netanyahu’s attempts to persuade Putin as “a failure”. This in spite of Netanyahu telling reporters after the meeting that his relations with Moscow were stronger than ever.
[..] The Russian source said: “Putin has expressed his dissatisfaction from Israel’s latest actions in Lebanon” and even emphasized to Netanyahu that he “Rejects the aggression towards Lebanon’s sovereignty”, something which has never been heard from him.
Putin further stated that someone is cheating him in regards to Syria and Lebanon and that he will not let it go without a response. According to him, Netanyahu was warned not to strike such targets in the future.
This is where and how the winds –and with them the tectonic plates– have shifted. And don’t underestimate it. Bibi can presumably count on Trump more than any other US President in his time, and the US is supposedly this almighty force, also in the Middle East, but today Putin just tells him “don’t you dare!” Putin refuses to let him touch Assad’s territory and –Russian– weapons.
The clincher is those weapons have become so sophisticated that Bibi, Trump support or not, puts his tail between his legs and flies back, hoping nobody notices what shape he’s in. And in that humiliation, Lebanon is the cherry that Putin puts on top of the pie. “Now that you’re here, I want you to stop harassing Lebanon too. Yes, now you may go.” Lebanon must have stunned Bibi.
What these shifting winds tell us is that the shots in that part of the world, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, (I wouldn’t go as far as including Iran and Saudi Arabia just yet) are no longer called by Bibi or the US. The main reason, as we’ve mentioned often before, is that Russian weapons have become so powerful.
Because as also previously discussed, Russian arms may well be –far– superior to American ones, which in turn in due to the US arms industry developing weapons for profit, vs Russia producing them to defend itself. Putin outright humiliating Bibi Netanyahu may be the first real obvious consequence of that.
This is something that will play out over a long time, but it may change the global political climate dramatically very rapidly. Mike Pompeo can try to blame Iran for whatever it is that happened to Saudi oil facilities, but for the US to attack Iran, which may be the reason for that blame game, it would need to ask Putin for permission, just like Netanyahu did.
And why would Putin give that permission? That’s a real good question. Mind you, Netanyahu may on Tuesday get the Knesset seats he needs to stifle the investigations against him, and to annex the Jordan Valley, but he will still have to ask permission if he has big dreams. And neither Trump nor Jared Kushner nor anyone else can help him there.
The US neocons have been talking about a New World Order for decades. Well, now they got one.
Iran War Imminent? Trump Says US “Locked And Loaded” To Respond To Saudi Attack
Just as the price of oil was settling down from its record surge, it spiked once again, following a tweet by president Trump which has made war with Iran virtually inevitable.
Just before 7pm, Trump tweeted that “Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”
Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!
Setting aside the implicit admission that US foreign policy in the middle-east is now inexplicably run by Saudi Arabia, what is far more troubling is Trump’s statement that the US military is “locked and loaded”, and set to attack the country which instigated the attack on Saudi facilities, which according to Mike Pompeowas not Yemen, and its Houthi rebels, but rather Iran.
Now, as Bloomberg’s Javier Blas correctly notes, Trump’s tweet has left Saudi crown prince MbS boxed: “if he doesn’t point to #Iran, he’s likely to dissapointing Trump, but he does, he could start an all-war with Tehran of unknown end.” Needless to say, it is clear which option Saudi Arabia — which has been needling for war with Iran for years — will pick.
“Locked and loaded”
And “waiting to hear from the kingdom”. Now MbS is boxed: if he doesn’t point to #Iran, he’s likely to dissapointing Trump, but he does, he could start an all-war with Tehran of unknown end | #OOTT 🇺🇸 🇸🇦 🇮🇷 ⛽️🛢 https://t.co/aYS6uWixGl
And just in case it is unclear how Saudi Arabia will orderthe US “to proceed”, back in May, The Arab News — a newspaper that has long been chaired by various sons of King Salman until 2014 and is regarded as reflecting official position — published an editorial in English on Thursday, arguing that after incidents this week against Saudi energy targets, the next logical step “should be surgical strikes.” One can be certain that this time, it will be even more vocal.
Meanwhile, one wonders just how credible the official narrative of Iran being behind the attacks is. Here are some thoughts:
Saudi story is very suspicious. Called it a drone attack. US satellites showed it was really a missile attack. Now Saudis agree it was a missile attack. No long term damage to the facilities. The tanks didn’t have anything in them or they would have exploded. Doesn’t add up.
The irony here is that just last week, Iran suddenly seemed on the cusp of renewed talks with the US after Trump unceremoniously sacked John Bolton, who had been pushing for an attack on Iran for years. And yet, with Bolton gone, his most desired outcome has been achieved with the US military now “locked and loaded” to attack Iran… One almost wonders where Bolton was when “Iran” was launching drones at Saudi Arabia.
Incidentally, anyone hoping that oil prices will drop once the US invades Iran will be very disappointed.
For now, the market is clearly aware of what such an outcome would mean to oil prices, and not even Trump’s subsequent tweet that “PLENTYOFOIL!” will do anything to ease fears that a full-blown middle-eastern war may be coming.