Monday, October 7, 2013

Government Shutdown Day 7: Debt Ceiling Begins to Take Precedence; Silver-Corn Trade Plummets

Remember a few weeks ago, when everybody (including Money Daily) was saying that the government wouldn't shut down? And then, when it did, all the pundits and "important" people saying it would only last a day or two?

Well, those predictions were all wrong. Now, what we're hearing is that the shutdown (which isn't really a shutdown, because 83% of the federal government is up and running) will meld into the debt ceiling deadline, which is October 17, but, but, but, some of the same predictors from before are now saying that there's no chance the politicians won't have a deal on the debt ceiling, or that the government won't go into default.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The two sides are as far apart, ideologically, as they were a week ago, two weeks ago, two months ago, plus they have the added kicker of ObamaCare, the federal heath insurance program this is largely a fiasco of proportions only the federal government could accomplish, the main website for signing up only partially-functional, replete with glitches, shutdowns, "waiting rooms," and other assorted disasters. It is undeniably the worst rollout of any federal program in living memory (*some of our editors are pretty old, but don't predate WWII).

Imagine if this government were in charge of planning and executing D-Day, the invasion of Normandy which eventually resulted in ending World War II? Hitler would have won, after having laughed his tail off at our incompetence.

So, think that the US government won't violate its citizens again by exceeding the deadline for raising the debt limit? Think again. They've already done so. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been employing "extraordinary measures" - that's Wahington-speak for raiding the pension funds of federal employees - since mid-August and those funds are running out fast.

If the government doesn't raise the debt limit by October 17, nobody will notice at first, except maybe some of those future federal pensioners, whose trust funds would remain empty and funded only at the behest of congressional appropriation prioritization. In other words, federal employees might end up without pensions - or with greatly reduced pensions - should the US decide that their funding is not a top priority. Suppose there's a war, a natural disaster, or other unforeseen event that would require quick funding by the government? What might happen to those unfunded pensions?

Of course, most people see that condition as far-fetched, but, in reality, it is closer than one would want to believe. The various federal employee trust funds have already been drained, just like Social Security and Medicare, each of which poses an even more serious, existential problem than the current government funding issues.

So, eventually, all of this will be resolved, either by wise political will or abject bungling and failure, which is what we have now. Anyone even remotely believing that our current crop of grade B politicians will do anything more than apply remedial, short-term fixes to long-term problems is kidding themselves and not approaching the situation with the required seriousness.

The US government, because of 100 years of debt servitude to the Federal Reserve, willful neglect of fiscal prudence and outright incompetence has been pushed to the brink of disaster, a disaster which took decades to create, but which can come crashing down in a matter of days, and those days are numbered.

Despite the various voices in the media - especially on CNBC - who publicly appear to be not at all concerned about the government shutdown and debt ceiling issues, are privately fearful that the politicians are either inept and incapable of fixing the mess they've created or have planed the entire charade all along.

We will find out soon enough.

As for the public markets of the financial world, a state of semi-paralysis has taken hold. The usual buy-on-the-dip screamers have been silenced, now merely whispering about possibly buying a few selected stocks, as volume - already at lowered levels - has cratered, the result of relentless stock buybacks over the past four years and a market juiced by the funny money of QE and ZIRP from the Federal Reserve. There's less stock available to purchase, and most of it is overpriced, with average P/E ratios in the 16-17 range, a touch high for an economy embroiled in a severe recession or possible depression.

Since the government shutdown began officially on Tuesday, October 1, the Dow is down 194 points, most of that accounted for just today, and, bear in mind that the Dow kicked out three losing companies and replaced them with high-fliers Goldman Sachs, Nike and Visa just two weeks ago. The usually-ebullient NASDAQ is off by just 1.10 points and the S&P has shed a little more than 15 points, again, most of that being gnawed off today.

What's more worrying for stock junkies is that the A-D line took a severe downturn today, with losers outpacing gainers by a 7-2 margin and the gap between stocks making new 52-week highs and lows was the slightest since mid-August.

Market internals are indicating a degree of concern, but the mouthpieces for financial firms aren't openly expressing of it, yet.

For those taking a more esoteric view, consider the relationship of silver to corn. According to no less an authority as Adam Smith (yes, the one who wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776), a decline in the real price of corn, expressed in silver (i.e., one could buy more corn for the same amount of silver or could buy the same amount of corn for less silver), is a certain sign of deflation, and that particular metric has been bleeding all summer, as the price of corn has declined while silver - even though its price is substantially manipulated to the downside - has remained stuck in a range of $21-23/ounce.

The reality is that without central banks and their agents stomping down on the price of silver and gold, the deflationists would have an irrefutable argument that the economy of the United States is close to, if not already in, a severe depression.

Dow 14,936.24, -136.34 (0.90%)
Nasdaq 3,770.38, -37.38 (0.98%)
S&P 500 1,676.12, -14.38 (0.85%)
10-Yr Bond 2.63%, -0.02
NYSE Volume 2,676,265,500
Nasdaq Volume 1,452,687,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1321-4288
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 135-67
WTI crude oil: 103.03, -0.81
Gold: 1,325.10, +15.20
Silver: 22.39, +0.634
Corn: 449.25, +6.00

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