Mike Shedlock

Bill Gross Discusses the "Tipping Point" For Bonds; Does He Miss the Boat?


Bill Gross did not see this major selloff in bonds coming. He discusses the setup in his recent Investment Outlook called The Tipping Point.

Much of the article is about how he almost tipped a ship while in the Navy. He uses the tipped ship metaphor to talk about the position in bonds.

Gross says "Markets just had too much risk, and in PIMCO’s opinion, too much hope for a constant QE and for the growth that it would produce. In effect, the ship was top heavy with too little ballast. Guess I should have known, huh?"

That's water over the dam at this point so the question Gross asks now is "Well where does the ship go from here?"

Here is a snip of Gross' explanation.


Should you as a bond investor jump overboard and risk the cold money market Atlantic Ocean at near zero degrees? We don’t think so – and not because we want to keep you on board – we just don’t think so. Why not?

1) The Fed’s forecast of the economy which prompted tapering panic is far too optimistic. If 7% unemployment is tapering’s final port of call, we simply think that we’re much further away than the Fed’s compass would suggest. We argue for structural headwinds – demographic, globalization, and technology influences – that have had and will continue to have dampening effects on domestic and global growth. The Fed, we would argue, is too cyclically oriented, focusing substantially on housing prices and car sales. And speaking of housing, since mortgage rates have risen by 1½% in the last six months and the average monthly check for a new home buyer is up by 20–25% as well, then as I tweeted several weeks ago, “Mr. Chairman are you serious?” Growth will be negatively influenced.

2) Inflation, according to the Fed’s own statistics is running close to a 1% pace. The Fed has told us that they “target,” “ target” 2% and for the next 1–2 years are willing to accept even 2½% until they reverse engines. Fed Governor Bullard of the St. Louis Fed was in our opinion correct where he dissented from the majority decision several weeks ago, citing the distant shores of 2%+ inflation and the seeming inability to even move in that direction. 

3) Yields have adjusted by too much. While T.V. and the press focus on 10-year Treasuries at 2.55% as their guiding star, subjective stabs by yours truly or anyone else are difficult day to day. ... To my eye, Fed Funds will not increase until at least mid-2015 and even then subject to a consistently strong economy that produces 2%+ inflation. I wonder if we can get there in this decade to tell you the truth. But the beauty of this North Star Fed Funds sextant is that it can be rather directly observed in futures markets, either for Fed Funds or for Eurodollars, which are a close companion. Right now, Fed Funds futures markets are predicting a 75 basis point yield in 2015, and Eurodollars validating a similar conclusion. That would suggest a mispricing, despite the obvious caveat of professional observers that some of the 75 is a surcharge for potential volatility. In any case, if frontend curves are up to 50 basis points cheap, then intermediate curves – the 10-year Treasury – may be as much as 35 basis points too cheap. They belong in our opinion at 2.20% instead of 2.55%.

So there you have it, fellow passengers and paying clients. Don’t jump ship now. We may have reached an inflection point of low Treasury, mortgage and corporate yields in late April, but this is overdone.

Emphasis by Bill Gross

A Tipping Point That Won't Tip

Gross' message is clearly "the ship has reached a tipping point but don't worry, the ship won't tip". Let's discuss each of Gross' three main points.

1) "The Fed's forecast is far too optimistic".

I certainly agree with Gross that the Fed (and almost everyone else) is overly optimistic.

But what if growth is not the Fed's only concern? What if the Fed is concerned about the bubbles it has blown in stocks and bonds? What if the Fed is concerned about renewed speculation in housing?

Perhaps that scenario is far-fetched, perhaps not, but at least some Fed governors have those concerns.

2) "The Fed's inflation target is 2%"

OK, the Bernanke Fed has an inflation target of 2%.  But Bernanke will soon be gone. Will the next Fed have the same target? Any target? Given that Janet Yellen is likely the next Fed Chairperson, it is likely but not a given.

And how does one measure inflation? Will the Fed ignore housing like it did between 2002 and 2007? Will it ignore all brewing bubbles?

3) "Yields have adjusted too much"

Have they? Let's assume that Gross is correct.

Gross emphasizes the yield on a 10-year note belongs at "2.20% instead of 2.55%".

Lovely! Let's once again assume Gross is right. The upside is 35 basis points. And what is the downside if Gross is wrong?

Is this what things have come to? That's it's necessary to speculate on a gain of 35 basis points because that is fair value? And where was Gross on "fair value" when the yield was 1.5%?

If it is correct to play for 35 basis points now, why was he in bonds when the yield was 70 basis points too low? Can you have this both ways?

And why is this suddenly a "3–5% for both stocks and bonds" when he tweeted "@PIMCO The secular 30-yr bull market in bonds likely ended 4/29/2013. PIMCO can help you navigate a likely lower return 2 - 3% future."

So, is this a 3-5% world or a 2-3% world?

Questions abound and answers are few.

I actually suspect Gross may have this correct, but what is the risk-reward if he is wrong? What if the bond revolt continues? What if the Fed has lost control? That's what Gross does not discuss, and that's where he missed the boat.

For further discussion, please see Calmer Waters for the Bond Market? Gold? Worst Over?

Spying Out of Control: NSA Bugs EU Offices, Gathers Routine Info On US Citizens; Is NSA Surveillance Legal? Constitutional?


Just to show how far out of line NSA surveillance has gotten, the US is gathering routine information on US citizens and has also been bugging EU offices.

Der Spiegel reports "Senior European Union officials are outraged by revelations that the US spied on EU representations in Washington and New York. Some have called for a suspension of talks on the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement."

Please consider Spying 'Out of Control': EU Official Questions Trade Negotiations

Europeans are furious. Revelations that the US intelligence service National Security Agency (NSA) targeted the European Union and several European countries with its far-reaching spying activities have led to angry reactions from several senior EU and German politicians.

"We need more precise information," said European Parliament President Martin Schulz. "But if it is true, it is a huge scandal. That would mean a huge burden for relations between the EU and the US. We now demand comprehensive information."

Schulz was reacting to a report in SPIEGEL that the NSA had bugged the EU's diplomatic representation in Washington and monitored its computer network (full story available on Monday). The EU's representation to the United Nations in New York was targeted in a similar manner. US intelligence thus had access to EU email traffic and internal documents. The information appears in secret documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden, some of which SPIEGEL has seen.

The documents also indicate the US intelligence service was responsible for an electronic eavesdropping operation in Brussels. SPIEGEL also reported that Germany has been a significant target of the NSA's global surveillance program, with some 500 million communication connections being monitored every month. The documents show that the NSA is more active in Germany than in any other country in the European Union.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who has been sharply critical of the US since the beginning of the Prism scandal, was furious on Sunday. "If media reports are correct, then it is reminiscent of methods used by enemies during the Cold War," she said in a statement emailed to the media. "It defies belief that our friends in the US see the Europeans as their enemies. There has to finally be an immediate and comprehensive explanation from the US as to whether media reports about completely unacceptable surveillance measures of the US in the EU are true or not. Comprehensive spying on Europeans by Americans cannot be allowed."

Elmar Brok, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in European Parliament added his opprobrium. "The spying has reached dimensions that I didn't think were possible for a democratic country. Such behavior among allies is intolerable." The US, he added, once the land of the free, "is suffering from a security syndrome," added Brok, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. "They have completely lost all balance. George Orwell is nothing by comparison."

Green Party floor leader in European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit went even further. "A simple note of protest is not enough anymore. The EU must immediately suspend negotiations with the US over a free trade agreement," he said. "First, we need a deal on data protection so that something like this never happens again. Only then can we resume (free-trade) negotiations."

The US has thus far declined to respond to the revelations printed in SPIEGEL. "I can't comment," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told journalists on Saturday in Pretoria, according to the German news agency DPA.
Evidence Overwhelming

The US has not officially acknowledged that fact but nor has the US denied it. But the evidence is overwhelming. "I can't comment" is the best the US can do.

The Financial Times comments on the mess in EU demands answers over claims US bugged its offices
A diplomatic row over communications surveillance deepened as European ministers reacted with disbelief and fury to reports that EU offices were bugged by US intelligence services.

Der Spiegel said it had gained partial access to a NSA document dated 2010, which was obtained by Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor turned whistleblower.

The document revealed the NSA had placed bugs and tapped into internal computer networks at the EU’s offices in Washington, as well as at the EU’s mission to the UN, according to Der Spiegel. The White House declined to comment.

In Germany, especially, where sensitivities over spying remain acute because of large amounts of snooping conducted before 1989 by the Stasi, the East German secret police, the revelations about extensive US surveillance have caused a political furore.

“It defies all belief that our friends in the US see Europeans as enemies,” Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said. “If EU offices in Brussels and Washington were indeed monitored by US intelligence services, that can hardly be explained with the argument of fighting terrorism.”

Although Germany and the US co-operate extensively on intelligence matters, the partnership is not as deep as that between the US and UK. Together with Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the UK enjoys a privileged status. However, Germany is classified as a “third-class” partner.

“We can attack the signals of most foreign third-class partners, and we do it too,” Der Spiegel quoted a passage in an NSA document as saying.

Meanwhile, Rafael Correa, Ecuadorean president, said on Sunday that Mr Snowden’s fate was in the hands of Russian authorities. The man who first brought the snooping allegations out in the open is thought to still be in a Moscow airport transit zone awaiting news of his asylum request from the South American country.

Legal But Unconstitutional

Washington Post writer Laura K. Donohue, professor at Georgetown University Law Center and director of Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law, says NSA surveillance may be legal — but it’s unconstitutional.
The National Security Agency’s recently revealed surveillance programs undermine the purpose of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was established to prevent this kind of overreach. They violate the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. And they underscore the dangers of growing executive power.

The intelligence community has a history of overreaching in the name of national security. In the mid-1970s, it came to light that, since the 1940s, the NSA had been collecting international telegraphic traffic from companies, in the process obtaining millions of Americans’ telegrams that were unrelated to foreign targets. From 1940 to 1973, the CIA and the FBI engaged in covert mail-opening programs that violated laws prohibiting the interception or opening of mail. The agencies also conducted warrantless “surreptitious entries,” breaking into targets’ offices and homes to photocopy or steal business records and personal documents. The Army Security Agency intercepted domestic radio communications. And the Army’s CONUS program placed more than 100,000 people under surveillance, including lawmakers and civil rights leaders.

After an extensive investigation of the agencies’ actions, Congress passed the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to limit sweeping collection of intelligence and create rigorous oversight. But 35 years later, the NSA is using this law and its subsequent amendments as legal grounds to run even more invasive programs than those that gave rise to the statute.

We’ve learned that in April, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ordered Verizon to provide information on calls made by each subscriber over a three-month period. Over the past seven years, similar orders have been served continuously on AT&T, Sprint and other telecommunications providers.

Another program, PRISM, disclosed by the Guardian and The Washington Post, allows the NSA and the FBI to obtain online data including e-mails, photographs, documents and connection logs. The information that can be assembledabout any one person — much less organizations, social networks and entire communities — is staggering: What we do, think and believe.

To the extent that the FISC sanctioned PRISM, it may be consistent with the law. But it is disingenuous to suggest that millions of Americans’ e-mails, photographs and documents are “incidental” to an investigation targeting foreigners overseas.

Congress didn’t pass Section 215 to allow for the wholesale collection of information. As Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who helped draft the statute, wrote in the Guardian: “Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”

Illegal And Unconstitutional

New York Times op-ed contributors Jennifer Stisa Granick and Christopher Jon Sprigman make the case that the NSA Actions are both illegal and unconstitutional in their article The Criminal N.S.A.
THE twin revelations that telecom carriers have been secretly giving the National Security Agency information about Americans’ phone calls, and that the N.S.A. has been capturing e-mail and other private communications from Internet companies as part of a secret program called Prism, have not enraged most Americans. Lulled, perhaps, by the Obama administration’s claims that these “modest encroachments on privacy” were approved by Congress and by federal judges, public opinion quickly migrated from shock to “meh.”

 It didn’t help that Congressional watchdogs — with a few exceptions, like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky — have accepted the White House’s claims of legality. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, have called the surveillance legal. So have liberal-leaning commentators like Hendrik Hertzberg and David Ignatius.

This view is wrong — and not only, or even mainly, because of the privacy issues raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics. The two programs violate both the letter and the spirit of federal law. No statute explicitly authorizes mass surveillance. Through a series of legal contortions, the Obama administration has argued that Congress, since 9/11, intended to implicitly authorize mass surveillance. But this strategy mostly consists of wordplay, fear-mongering and a highly selective reading of the law. Americans deserve better from the White House — and from President Obama, who has seemingly forgotten the constitutional law he once taught.

 Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contract employee and whistle-blower, has provided evidence that the government has phone record metadata on all Verizon customers, and probably on every American, going back seven years. This metadata is extremely revealing; investigators mining it might be able to infer whether we have an illness or an addiction, what our religious affiliations and political activities are, and so on.

The law under which the government collected this data, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, allows the F.B.I. to obtain court orders demanding that a person or company produce “tangible things,” upon showing reasonable grounds that the things sought are “relevant” to an authorized foreign intelligence investigation. The F.B.I. does not need to demonstrate probable cause that a crime has been committed, or any connection to terrorism.

Even in the fearful time when the Patriot Act was enacted, in October 2001, lawmakers never contemplated that Section 215 would be used for phone metadata, or for mass surveillance of any sort.

Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican and one of the architects of the Patriot Act, and a man not known as a civil libertarian, has said that “Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations.” The N.S.A.’s demand for information about every American’s phone calls isn’t “targeted” at all — it’s a dragnet. “How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?” Mr. Sensenbrenner has asked. The answer is simple: It’s not.

 Let’s turn to Prism: the streamlined, electronic seizure of communications from Internet companies. In combination with what we have already learned about the N.S.A.’s access to telecommunications and Internet infrastructure, Prism is further proof that the agency is collecting vast amounts of e-mails and other messages — including communications to, from and between Americans.

The government justifies Prism under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Section 1881a of the act gave the president broad authority to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance. If the attorney general and the director of national intelligence certify that the purpose of the monitoring is to collect foreign intelligence information about any non­American individual or entity not known to be in the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can require companies to provide access to Americans’ international communications. The court does not approve the target or the facilities to be monitored, nor does it assess whether the government is doing enough to minimize the intrusion, correct for collection mistakes and protect privacy. Once the court issues a surveillance order, the government can issue top-secret directives to Internet companies like Google and Facebook to turn over calls, e-mails, video and voice chats, photos, voice­over IP calls (like Skype) and social networking information.

Leave aside the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act for a moment, and turn to the Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment obliges the government to demonstrate probable cause before conducting invasive surveillance. There is simply no precedent under the Constitution for the government’s seizing such vast amounts of revealing data on innocent Americans’ communications.

 One of the most conservative justices on the Court, Samuel A. Alito Jr., wrote that where even public information about individuals is monitored over the long term, at some point, government crosses a line and must comply with the protections of the Fourth Amendment. That principle is, if anything, even more true for Americans’ sensitive nonpublic information like phone metadata and social networking activity.

We may never know all the details of the mass surveillance programs, but we know this: The administration has justified them through abuse of language, intentional evasion of statutory protections, secret, unreviewable investigative procedures and constitutional arguments that make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy. It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.
Criminal is Correct Viewpoint

There is no doubt that actions by the NSA are both illegal and unconstitutional.

Yet, instead of going after the perpetrators of crimes, the US is going after Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who leaked the documents detailing the illegal surveillance to various news agencies.

Rand Paul on Snowden

Finally, please consider Rand Paul: Clapper Lied, Snowden Told the Truth.
Senator Rand Paul told CNN yesterday that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will be historically viewed as a truth teller whereas Obama national security director James Clapper will be judged as a liar for telling Congress that the NSA was not spying on Americans.

“I would say that Mr. Snowden hasn’t lied to anyone,” Paul told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “He did break his oath of office, but part of his oath of office is to the Constitution, and he believes that, when James Clapper came in March, our national director of intelligence came and lied, that he [Snowden] was simply coming forward and telling the truth that your government was lying. This is a big concern of mine, because it makes me doubt the administration and their word to us when they talk to us, because they have now admitted they will lie to us if they think it is in the name of national security.”

Paul is referring to Clapper’s March testimony in front of the Senate intelligence committee, during which he claimed that the National Security Agency did “not wittingly” collect data on Americans’ communications.

Following Snowden’s revelations about the PRISM program, Clapper tried to clarify his remarks by stating, “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying ‘no.’”

“Mr Clapper lied in Congress in defiance of the law in the name of security – Mr. Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy, so I think there will be a judgment because both of them broke the law and history will have to determine,” added Paul.
So, who is the criminal here, and who is the hero? One is wanted on charges of treason, the other is not wanted or charged with anything.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

Mike Shedlock

Mike Shedlock is a registered investment advisor representative for Sitka Pacific Capital Management.