The Index of Cronyism by The Economist

Alejandro Chafuen discusses the impact of crony capitalism:

Unfortunately, much of the debate about cronyism is based on anecdotes and generalizations…..In the United States we have efforts, such as Subsidy Tracker, which give some idea of the problem. Subsidies feed cronyism. Known state subsidies to private business add up to $153 billion.

Subsidies are merely the tip of the iceberg. Artificial exchange rates and offshoring have cost millions of US manufacturing jobs.

The Economist has produced an Index of Cronyism which ranks Hong Kong as #1 and Russia #2 on the list. But it points out that the index is only a rough guide with three major shortcomings:

  • Not all cronies, especially politicians, disclose their wealth. So the fortune of Vladimir Putin, for example, is not included.
  • The index concentrates on vulnerable sectors and ignores other forms of subsidy outside these areas. And all companies in a sector, good or bad, are tarred with the same brush.
  • Only the wealth of billionaires is counted. There are many less-wealthy public servants and corporate officers who also benefit.

….More than a reason for criticism, “The Economist” and its Index of Cronyism should be a call for action and improvement. “If it Matters Measure It,” says the motto of the Fraser Institute. Cronyism matters. Measure it.

I wholeheartedly agree. Cronyism is a bigger threat to capitalism than (largely discredited) socialism. More work needs to be done to measure its economic and social cost.

Read more at The Index Of Cronyism By 'The Economist': A Call For Improvement.

Poland Prepares for Russian Invasion | The XX Committee

A top Polish MoD official, a man of “sober and strongly pro-American views” opines about Barack Obama and his national security staff:

“…You have no idea how many promises we’ve been given, even by the President himself, but there’s never any follow-up, it’s all talk. He thinks he’s on Oprah.” When I asked if he thought America would come to Poland’s aid in a crisis, he said laconically, “I’d flip a coin.”

Read more at Poland Prepares for Russian Invasion | The XX Committee.

Should Beijing raise subway fares? | Michael Pettis

Michael Pettis’ argues that not only are SOEs “destroying value in the aggregate on a huge scale” but misallocated investment is endemic in China.

I have to confess that the reason I started saying in 2006-07 that China was eventually going to replace 1980s Japan as the global archetype of investment misallocation was not because I had a lot of data proving my case. Overinvestment is almost impossible to prove until after the fact, especially when you consider the circularity of the data – the growth assumptions feed into the valuation of the investment, which then feeds back into the growth assumptions.

My reasons were much more “systemic”. I did not believe it was possible for any country not to experience significant wasted investment after so many years – more than a decade in this case – of the highest investment growth rate in the world funded by massive credit expansion at such incredibly low lending rates roughly one-third the nominal GDP growth rate, and 1-3 percentage points below the GDP deflator. Add more spicy ingredients to the stew – first, the very limited experience of Chinese bankers and regulators, and most of that in a one-way market, second, widespread moral hazard, third, weak corporate governance, fourth, very fuzzy data, and finally, no enforced system of accountability – and I found it impossible to doubt that investment was being dangerously misallocated.

He also dispels the counter-argument that “Western” models don’t apply to China and that “a very poor, low-capital-stock country far from the technological frontier like China” is able to absorb higher levels of investment.

In 2008 (Red Star) I compared China to a red star in astronomy:

Students of astronomy will tell you that a red star, far from indicating heat, is cooling appreciably. While its diameter may expand, its core is contracting and its temperature falling. Eventually it will either explode or shrink to become a dwarf star….

My warning of an imminent collapse may have been premature, but no economy can survive such high levels of investment misallocation without major upheaval. China risks following the boom-bust growth path of Japan and the Asian tigers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Read more at Should Beijing raise subway fares? | Michael Pettis' CHINA FINANCIAL MARKETS.

Gold – further falls likely

Low interest rates increase demand for gold by lowering the carrying cost. A rising dollar, however, has the opposite effect.

Gold respected resistance at $1250/ounce, confirming the primary down-trend. Another 13-week Twiggs Momentum peak below zero strengthens the signal. Breach of primary support at $1180 would offer a long-term target of $1000*. Recovery above 1250 is unlikely, but would test the descending trendline around $1300.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1200 – ( 1400 – 1200 ) = 1000

Gold Bugs Index, representing un-hedged gold stocks, fell sharply since breaching long-term support at 190. Declining 13-week Twiggs Momentum (below zero) signals a strong primary decline. Bearish for gold.

Gold Bugs Index

The price of gold adjusted for inflation (gold/CPI) remains relatively high and further falls are likely.

Gold adjusted for CPI

Dollar rising as Treasury yields recover

The yield on ten-year Treasury Notes recovered above the former support level at 2.30%, suggesting another test of 2.50% and the descending trendline. Reversal below 2.30%, however, would warn of another test of primary support at 2.00%. 13-Week Twiggs Momentum below zero continues to signal a primary down-trend.

10-Year Treasury Yields

* Target calculation: 2.30 – ( 2.60 – 2.30 ) = 2.00

The Dollar Index respected its new support level at 84.50 and recovery above 86.5 would confirm a primary advance to 89*. Rising 13-week Twiggs Momentum suggests a healthy (primary) up-trend. Failure of support at 84.50 is unlikely, but would warn of correction to the primary trendline.

Dollar Index

* Target calculation: 84 + ( 84 – 79 ) = 89.00

Are corporate profit margins sustainable?

Market capitalization as a percentage of (US) GNP is climbing and some commentators have been predicting a reversion to the mean — a substantial fall in market cap.

US Market Cap to GNP

But corporate profits have been climbing at a similar rate.

US Corporate Profits to GNP

Wages surged as a percentage of value added in the first quarter (2014) and profit margins fell sharply, adding fresh impetus to the bear outlook. But margins recovered to 10.6% in the second quarter.

Employee Compensation and Profits as Percentage of Gross Value Added

Further gains in the third quarter would suggest that profits are sustainable. Research by Morgan Stanley supports this view, revealing that improved profit margins are largely attributable to the top 50 mega-corporations in the US:

Mega cap companies (the largest 50 by size) have been able to pull their margins away from the smaller companies through globalization, productivity, scale, cost of capital, and taxes, among other reasons. We argue against frameworks that call for near-term mean reversion and base equity return algorithms off the concept of overearning. Why? The margins for the mega cap cohort in the last two downturns of 2001 and 2008 were well above the HIGHEST margins achieved during the 1974-1994 period. To us, this is a powerful indication that the mega cap cohort is unlikely to mean revert back to the 1970s to 1990s average level.

(From Sam Ro at Business Insider)

Also interesting is The Bank of England’s surprise at the lack of inflation in response to falling unemployment. One would expect wage rates to rise when slack is taken up in the labor market, but this has failed to materialize. It may be that unemployment is understated — and a rising participation rate will keep the lid on wages. If this happens in the US it would add further support for sustainable profit margins.

Surprising lack of inflation as unemployment falls | Bank of England

Sir Jon Cunliffe, Deputy Governor for Financial Stability at the Bank of England:

“The big surprise, therefore, for the [Monetary Policy Committee] … has been the extent to which employment has been able to grow without generating more inflationary pressure through higher pay increases. Understanding why that has happened and how long it will persist is, in my view, now key to deciding policy.”

One possible explanation may be a longer-than-usual lag between falls in unemployment and pay pressure emerging, which could mean that inflationary pressure is building in the pipeline that will be more difficult to curtail if the Bank does not act now. However, another is that a combination of factors has caused labour supply – the amount of hours of labour available to the economy – to be much stronger than in previous recoveries, for example due to the increase in women’s state pension age and changes to the incapacity benefits regime. And the fall in unemployment has included a high number of long-term unemployed, who probably act as less of a drag on pay.

Yet despite the biggest squeeze on real incomes for nearly a century, there appears to be little evidence that workers are demanding a catch-up in pay, Jon observes, possibly due to a shift in the psychology of UK workers resulting from the sharpness of the recession and the years of austerity that have followed it.

Read more at Bank of England | Publications | News Releases | News Release – Monetary policy one year on – speech by Sir Jon Cunliffe.

China Advisory Body Boots Hong Kong Lawmaker James Tien – WSJ – WSJ

From Isabella Steger and Fiona Law in Hong Kong and
Chun Han Wong in Beijing:

A leading Hong Kong politician was stripped of his seat on China’s main advisory body after contradicting Beijing’s views, in another step to quiet dissent during month-long protests in the former British colony.

The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference voted Wednesday to boot Hong Kong lawmaker and businessman James Tien, who last week called on the city’s chief executive to resign over his handling of demonstrations seeking freer elections.

Mr. Tien, the head of Hong Kong’s pro-business Liberal Party, was removed over “improper remarks,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.

A telltale sign of a leader about to crash and burn: when they sack advisers who speak out and question the official party line.

Read more at China Advisory Body Boots Hong Kong Lawmaker James Tien – WSJ – WSJ.

ASX breaks resistance

The Australian Dollar continues to test resistance at $0.8900. Tall shadows in the past few weeks suggest committed sellers. Breach of primary support at $0.8650 would warn of another decline. 13-Week Twiggs Momentum below zero also indicates a primary down-trend.

AUDUSD

* Target calculation: 0.87 – ( 0.94 – 0.87 ) = 0.80

ASX 200 broke resistance at 5440, suggesting another test of 5660. Rising 21-day Twiggs Money Flow indicates medium-term buying pressure. Reversal below 5440, however, would warn of a test of support at 5250.

ASX 200

The ASX 200 VIX below 15 continues to indicate low risk typical of a bull market.

ASX 200

Hong Kong weighs on China

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index is testing support at 23000. Narrow consolidation warns of continuation to test primary support at 21200. Reversal of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow below zero suggests a primary down-trend. Breach of support at 21200 would confirm.

Hang Seng Index

China’s Shanghai Composite Index is retracing after penetration of its secondary trendline, but at this stage it’s no more than a secondary correction. Hong Kong could weigh on the index, however. Reversal of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow below zero would warn of a primary down-trend.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target calculation: 2250 + ( 2250 – 2000 ) = 2500

India’s Sensex broke clear of its recent flag formation and is again testing resistance at 27000. Bearish divergence on 13-week Twiggs Money Flow remains a concern, but breakout above 27000 would indicate an advance to 28000*. Reversal below 26000 would signal a correction to the primary trendline.

Sensex

* Target calculation: 27000 + ( 27000 – 26000 ) = 28000

Europe: Selling pressure

Germany’s DAX is testing resistance at 9000. Reversal below 8900 would suggest another decline with a target of 8000*. 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow below zero warns of long-term selling pressure; a peak below zero would confirm a primary down-trend. Recovery above 9000 is unlikely, but would suggest a rally to 9800.

DAX

* Target calculation: 9000 – ( 10000 – 9000 ) = 8000

The Footsie has also run into resistance, at 6400/6500. Respect would signal a decline to 6100*. Declining 13-week Twiggs Money Flow indicates medium-term selling pressure, but nowhere near as weak as the DAX.

FTSE 100

* Target calculation: 6500 – ( 6900 – 6500 ) = 6100

Dow & Nasdaq buying pressure

Dow Jones Industrial Average penetrated its descending trendline, suggesting that the correction is over. Recovery above 17000 would signal an advance to 18000* — confirmed if follow-through above resistance at 17300. Rising 21-day Twiggs Money Flow indicates medium-term buying pressure. Respect of resistance at 17000 is unlikely, but would warn of another test of 16350.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

* Target calculation: 17000 + ( 17000 – 16000 ) = 18000

The Nasdaq 100 recovered above its descending trendline and resistance at 4000, signaling an advance to 4500*. Follow-through above 4100 would confirm. Recovery of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow above 35% would flag buying pressure. Reversal below 4000 is unlikely, but would warn of a test of another test of the rising trendline.

Nasdaq 100

* Target calculation: 4100 + ( 4100 – 3700 ) = 4500

Solar Struggles To Compete With Other Renewables On Cost

Andy Tully discusses a study by Ecofys, a renewable energy consultancy based in Utrecht, Netherlands:

…..The Ecofys study concludes that new coal and natural gas plants in the EU, running at maximum capacity, have levelized costs of just over $64 in 2012 dollars per megawatt-hour. Onshore wind costs about $102 per megawatt-hour.

On the higher end, the Ecofys says, nuclear power costs about $115 per megawatt-hour and solar photovoltaic systems cost about $127. At the low end, the cost of hydroelectric power costs about $12.

Read more at Solar Struggles To Compete With Other Renewables On Cost.

Alleged Oil Shock Isn’t All That Shocking

Keith Johnson discusses the impact of crude oil at $80 per barrel:

….Cheaper oil prices means lower prices at the pump and for everything that is ever shipped, from food to flip-flops. The recent fall equates to a massive, unplanned stimulus package for the world’s shoppers. Citigroup, for instance, figures that cheaper prices amount to a $1.1 trillion global shot in the arm.

Read more at Note to World: Alleged Oil Shock Isn't All That Shocking.

Abbott’s federation reform push is sound | MacroBusiness

October correction nearing end

  • DAX and FTSE in a down-trend
  • China and Hong Kong retreat
  • US stocks remain in a bull market
  • ASX ends correction

The new reporting season is under way and fund managers are now looking for opportunities rather than selling off under-performers.

The S&P 500 broke resistance at 1900 and 1925. Penetration of the descending trendline suggests that the October correction is over. Recovery of 21-Day Twiggs Money Flow above zero indicates medium-term buying pressure. Expect a test of resistance at 2000 followed by consolidation or retracement to confirm support at 1925. Narrow consolidation below 2000 would be a bullish sign.

S&P 500 Index

* Target calculation: 2000 + ( 2000 – 1850 ) = 2150

CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) at 16 again indicates low risk typical of a bull market.

S&P 500 VIX

The Nasdaq 100 recovered above resistance at 4000, indicating a fresh advance. Penetration of the descending trendline signals that the correction is over. Completion of a 13-week Twiggs Money Flow trough high above zero would indicate long-term buying pressure. Reversal below 4000 is unlikely, but would warn of another test of support.

Nasdaq 100

* Target calculation: 4100 + ( 4100 – 3800 ) = 4400

Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50 recovered above its former primary support level at 3000, suggesting a bear trap. The primary trend remains downward, but recovery of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow above zero would suggest another test of 3300.

Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50

* Target calculation: 9000 – ( 10000 – 9000 ) = 8000

China’s Shanghai Composite Index retreated below support at 2340/2350 and the rising trendline, warning of a correction. A 13-week Twiggs Money Flow trough above zero would confirm the primary up-trend, while reversal below zero would warn of a bear market.

Shanghai Composite Index

The ASX 200 recovered above resistance at 5250 and 5350 and the descending trendline, indicating that the correction is over. Breach of resistance at 5450 would signal another test of 5650. Bullish divergence and rising 21-day Twiggs Money Flow (above zero) indicate medium-term buying pressure. Reversal below 5350 is unlikely, but would indicate another test of 5120.

ASX 200

More impressive than man’s first steps on the moon

A Bulgarian man, paralysed from the chest down when his spinal cord was severed in 2010, has taken his first steps after a team of surgeons, led by Pawel Tabakow, consultant neurosurgeon at Wroclaw University in Poland, transplanted olfactory nerve cells into the spinal cord.

“What we’ve done is establish a principle, nerve fibres can grow back and restore function, provided we give them a bridge,” said Geoff Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London’s Institute of Neurology, who led the British research team working on the joint project.

“To me, this is more impressive than a man walking on the Moon. I believe this is the moment when paralysis can be reversed.”

Read more at Paralysed man walks again after breakthrough spinal treatment – Business Insider.

Hat tip to Greg McKenna.

Russia’s Ruble in a world of pain

Russia’s ruble is in a world of pain, having lost one-third of its value against the Dollar over the last 40 months. The down-trend is accelerating, emphasized by two large 13-week Twiggs Momentum peaks below the zero line.

RUBUSD

Vladimir Putin has backed himself into a corner and has no way out but to escalate. His current strategy in Eastern Europe of one-step-back-two-steps-forward is becoming predictable and the European Union is likely to run out of patience, responding with further sanctions. Increasingly threatening behavior in the Baltic is also unlikely to intimidate, merely strengthening alliances and resolve.

George Soros on the Ukraine crisis:

Former Swedish PM Carl Bildt seems to agree:

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard weighs in on Russia’s economic woes: