Sunday, November 18, 2012

From the Man Who Bought One Million Dollars of Nickels

Kyle Bass of Kayman Capital Management is out with his most recent letter to investors in his hedge fund. Below are some of the key highlight,  as assembled by Zero Hedge, from the  letter. Of note, he hurls a grenade at Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) . He states, correctly, that fallacies such as MMT  are "leading the sheep to slaughter."

On central banks and the final round of global monetary debasement:
Central bankers are feverishly attempting to create their own new world: a utopia in which debts are never restructured, and there are no consequences for fiscal profligacy, i.e. no atonement for prior sins. They have created Potemkin villages on a Jurassic scale. The sum total of the volatility they are attempting to suppress will be less than the eventual volatility encountered when their schemes stop working. Most refer to comments like this as heresy against the orthodoxy of economic thought. We have a hard time understanding how the current situation ends any way other than a massive loss of wealth and purchasing power through default, inflation or both.

In the Keynesian bible (The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money), there is a very interesting tidbit of Keynes’ conscience in the last chapter titled “Concluding Notes” from page 376:

[I]t would mean the euthanasia of the rentier, and, consequently, the euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the scarcity value of capital. Interest today rewards no genuine sacrifice, any more than does the rent of land. The owner of capital can obtain interest because capital is scarce, just as the owner of land can obtain rent because land is scarce. But whilst there may be intrinsic reasons for the scarcity of land, there are no intrinsic reasons for the scarcity of capital.

. . .
Thus we might aim in practice (there being nothing in this which is unattainable) at an increase in capital until it ceases to be scarce, so that the functionless investor will no longer receive a bonus[.] (emphasis added)
This is nothing more than a chilling prescription for the destruction of wealth through the dilution of capital by monetary authorities.

Central banks have become the great enablers of fiscal profligacy. They have removed the proverbial policemen from the bond market highway. If central banks purchase the entirety of incremental bond issuance used to finance fiscal deficits, the checks and balances of “normal” market interest rates are obscured or even eliminated altogether. This market phenomenon does nothing to encourage the body politic to take their foot off the spending accelerator. It is both our primary fear and unfortunately our prediction that this quixotic path of spending and printing will continue ad?infinitum until real cost?push inflation manifests itself. We won’t get into the MV=PQ argument here as the reality of the situation is the fact that the V is the “solve?for” variable, which is at best a concurrent or lagging indicator. Given the enormity of the existing government debt stock, it will not be possible to control the very inflation that the market is currently hoping for. As each 100 basis points in cost of capital costs the US federal government over $150 billion, the US simply cannot afford for another Paul Volcker to raise rates and contain inflation once it begins.
Hayek was, of course, right:
The current modus operandi by central banks and sovereign governments threatens to take us down Friedrich von Hayek's “Road to Serfdom”. Published in 1944, its message, that all forms of socialism and economic planning lead inescapably to tyranny, might prove to have been prescient. In the 1970s, when Keynesianism was brought to crisis, politicians were vociferously declaring that attempting to maintain employment through inflationary means would inevitably destroy the market economy and replace it with a communist or some other totalitarian system which is the “perilous road” to be avoided “at any price". The genius in the book was the argument that serfdom would not be brought about by evil men like Stalin or Hitler, but by the cumulative effect of the wishes and actions of good men and women, each of whose interventions could be easily justified by immediate needs. We advocate social liberalism, but we also need to get there through fiscal responsibility. Pushing for inflation at this moment in time will wreak havoc on those countries whose cumulative debt stocks represent multiples of central government tax revenue.

The non?linearity of expenses versus revenues is what will bring them down.
"Pavlov's Party" is ending, and when it does, it will happen so fast no reaction will be possible:
Through travel and meetings around the world, it has become clear to us that most investors possess a heavily anchored bias that has been engrained in their belief systems mostly through inductive reasoning. Using one of the Nobel Laureate Daniel Khaneman's theories, participants fall under an availability heuristic whereby they are able to process information using only variables that are products of recent data sets or events. Let’s face it – the brevity of financial memory is shorter than the half?life of a Japanese finance minister.

Humans are optimistic by nature. People’s lives are driven by hopes and dreams which are all second derivatives of their innate optimism. Humans also suffer from optimistic biases driven by the first inalienable right of human nature which is self?preservation. It is this reflex mechanism in our cognitive pathways that makes difficult situations hard to reflect and opine on. These biases are extended to economic choices and events. The fact that developed nation sovereign defaults don’t advance anyone’s self?interest makes the logical outcome so difficult to accept. The inherent negativity associated with sovereign defaults brings us to such difficult (but logical) conclusions that it is widely thought that the powers that be cannot and will not allow it to happen. The primary difficulty with this train of thought is the bias that most investors have for the baseline facts: they tend to believe that the central bankers, politicians, and other governmental agencies are omnipotent due to their success in averting a financial meltdown in 2009.

The overarching belief is that there will always be someone or something there to act as the safety net. The safety nets worked so well recently that investors now trust they will be underneath them adinfinitum. Markets and economists alike now believe that quantitative easing (“QE”) will always “work” by flooding the market with relatively costless capital. When the only tool a central bank possesses is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In our opinion, QE just doesn’t stimulate private credit demand and consumption in an economy where total credit market debt to GDP already  exceeds 300%. The UK is the poster child for the abject failure of QE. The Bank of England has purchased over 27% of gross government debt (vs. 12% in the US). UK bond yields have all but gone negative and are now negative in real terms by at least ?1%. Unlimited QE and the zero lower bound (“ZLB”) are likely to bankrupt pension funds whose expected returns happen to be a good 600 basis points (or more) higher than the 10?year “risk?free” rate. The ZLB has many unintended consequences that are impossible to ignore.

Despite reading through Keynes’ works, we didn’t find a single index referencing the ZLB or any similar concept. In his General Theory, there are 64 entries in the index under “Interest” but no entry for the ZLB, zero rates, or even “really low rates”.

Our belief is that markets will eventually take these matters out of the hands of the central bankers. These events will happen with such rapidity that policy makers won’t be able to react fast enough.
On the lunacy of such "modern" "economic" "theories" as MMT (which may or may not stand for "Magic Money Trees")
The fallacy of the belief that countries that print their own currency are immune to sovereign crisis will be disproven in the coming months and years. Those that treat this belief as axiomatic will most likely be the biggest losers. A handful of investors and asset managers have recently discussed an emerging school of thought, which postulates that countries, as the sole manufacturer of their currency, can never become insolvent, and in this sense, governments are not dependent on credit markets to remain fiscally operationalIt is precisely this line of thinking which will ultimately lead the sheep to slaughter.
The inevitable end of that supremely flawed monetarist experiment - the Eurozone:
Each subsequent “save” of the European debt crisis has been devised by the Eurocrats coming up with some new amalgamation of an entity that is more complex than its predecessor that is designed to project size, strength, and confidence to investors that the problem has been solved. Raoul, a friend of mine who resides in Spain, put it best:

“Let’s just clear this up again. The ECB is going to buy bonds of bankrupt banks just so the banks can buy more bonds from bankrupt governments. Meanwhile, just to prop this up the ESM will borrow money from bankrupt governments to buy the very bonds of those bankrupt governments.”

The EFSF, the IMF, the ESM, and the OMT (and who knows what other vehicles they will dream up next) have all been developed to serve as an optical backstop for investors globally. The Eurocrats are sticking with the Merkelavellian playbook of hiding behind the complexity of these various schemes. All one has to do is review the required contributions to said vehicles from bankrupt nations to realize that the circular references are already beginning to show in broad daylight. Does anyone stop to consider that the two largest contributors to the IMF are the two largest debtor nations in the world? Are things beginning to make sense now?


In the end, the EMU won't look the same, if it exists at all.
And finally, a less than rosy outlook for the entire "developed" world.
Trillions of dollars of debts will be restructured and millions of financially prudent savers will lose large percentages of their real purchasing power at exactly the wrong time in their lives. Again, the world will not end, but the social fabric of the profligate nations will be stretched and in some cases torn. Sadly, looking back through economic history, all too often war is the manifestation of simple economic entropy played to its logical conclusionWe believe that war is an inevitable consequence of the current global economic situation.

The entire letter is here:

Kyle Bass