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Weekly Commentary: The Perils of Inflationism

Weekly Commentary: The Perils of Inflationism

December 13 – Financial Times (Chris Giles and Claire Jones): “When the European Central Bank switches off its money-printing press at the turn of this year and stops buying fresh assets, it will mark the end of a decade-long global experiment in how to stave off economic meltdowns. Quantitative easing, the policy that aims to boost spending and inflation by creating electronic money and pumping it into the economy by buying assets such as government bonds, is on the verge of becoming quantitative tightening. With the Federal Reserve slowly reducing its stocks of Treasuries, central banks are no longer in the buying business. Globally, only the Bank of Japan is left as a leading central bank that has not formally called time on expanding its stock of asset purchases. Arguments over how, or even if, the trillions spent by policymakers helped the global economy recover will rage for years to come. But as central banks step back, the initial view is that the purchases worked — whether through encouraging investors to hold more risky assets, easing constraints on borrowing, providing finance so governments could run larger budget deficits or just showing that central banks still had an answer to weak demand and low inflation.”
At this point, the prevailing view holds that QE “worked.” Moreover, central banks are seen ready and willing to call upon “money printing” operations as need. The great virtue of this policy course, many believe, is that there is essentially no limit to the scope and duration of “QE infinity.” The FT quoted Mario Draghi: “[QE] is permanent and may be usable in contingencies that the governing council will assess in its independence.” Melvyn Krauss, from the Hoover Institution, captured conventional thinking: “No one willingly walks into a room from which there is no exit. Because QE proved temporary, because it worked and because it has ended, it is likely to be used again.”…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Gold – A Perfect Storm For 2019

Gold – A Perfect Storm For 2019

This article is an overview of the principal factors likely to drive the gold price in 2019. It looks at the global factors that have developed in 2018 for both gold and the dollar, how geopolitics are likely to evolve, the economic outlook and how it is worsened for the dollar by President Trump’s tariff war against China, the availability and likely demand for bullion, and the technical position in paper markets. Taken together, the outlook is bullish for gold.

2018 reprise

For gold bulls, 2018 was disappointing. From 11 December 2017, when gold made a significant bottom against the dollar at $1243, it has ended virtually unchanged today, after being 4.2% up. Gold had to struggle against a rising dollar, whose trade-weighted index rose a net 3.7% over the same period, and as much as 9.4% from its mid-February low.

Dollar strength has been driven less by trade imbalances and more by interest rate differentials. A speculating bank for its own book or for a hedge fund client can borrow 3-month Euro Libor at minus0.354% and invest it in 3-month US Treasury bills at 2.36%, for a round trip of over 2.7%. Gear this up ten times or more, either on a bank’s capital, or through reverse repos for annualised returns of over 27%. To this can be added the currency gain, which at times has added enough to overall returns for an unhedged geared position to double the investment.

Not that these forex returns have been guaranteed, but you get the picture. The ECB and the Bank of Japan have been frozen into inactivity, reluctant to raise rates to correct this imbalance, and the punters have known it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ECB Confirms It Will End Asset Purchases, Will Reinvest Maturities In Full

As expected, the ECB – which obviously is keeping its rates unchanged – confirmed it would end its asset purchases in December 2018, while clarifying for the first time that it would “continue reinvesting, in full, the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the APP for an extended period of time past the date when it starts raising the key ECB interest rates.” Previously, the ECB had only committed to reinvesting “for an extended period after the end of QE.”

Also of note, the ECB announced it “expects interest rates to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019” which however the market no longer believes, having priced out a full rate hike in 2019.

In any case look for more clarity in 45 minutes when Draghi speaks.

Full statement below:

At today’s meeting the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) decided that the interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.40% respectively. The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

Regarding non-standard monetary policy measures, the net purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) will end in December 2018. At the same time, the Governing Council is enhancing its forward guidance on reinvestment. Accordingly, the Governing Council intends to continue reinvesting, in full…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Europe Struggles as the ECB Pretends to Know What It’s Doing

Europe Struggles as the ECB Pretends to Know What It’s Doing

euro-tower-2867928_1920.jpg

The European Central Bank (ECB) is rumored to be planning a halt  to its four-year quantitative easing program at the end of this week when it will stop its asset purchases while continuing to keep interest rates at current near-zero levels through 2019. The Economist laments this ‘rash’ decision, arguing that the European economy is still ‘faltering’, showing only very feeble and unstable signs of growth.

Since 2015, the ECB has bought bonds worth almost $3trn. However, core inflation has remained fairly low, exports have waxed and waned, and the Euro area has shown no clear signs of recovery after the 2008 financial collapse. Groping in the dark, The Economistblames “[p]oor weather, strikes and a bad flu season” for the shaky start of 2018, and low demand, both domestic and foreign, for the overall bleak outlook.

But in fact, the European economy is a very sick patient whose self-appointed doctor, the ECB, is treating it with the same poison that made it ill in the first place. It is also judging the health of its patient by monitoring the wrong signs, i.e. looking for some color in its cheeks rather than a strong heartbeat.

Mises (2009, 20) pointed out as early as 1934 that

[…] the inevitable and ineluctable consequence of the expansion of credit… was bound to lead eventually to a collapse. And the thing which is chiefly advocated as a remedy is nothing but another expansion of credit, such as certainly might lead to a transitory boom, but would be bound to end in a correspondingly severer crisis.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Every Bubble Is In Search Of A Pin

Every Bubble Is In Search Of A Pin

The ‘Everything Bubble’ has popped

Now that the world’s central banking cartel is taking a long-overdue pause from printing money and handing it to the wealthy elite, the collection of asset price bubbles nested within the Everything Bubble are starting to burst.

The cartel (especially the ECB and the Fed) is hoping it can gently deflate these bubbles it created, but that’s a fantasy. Bubbles always burst badly; it’s their nature to do so. Economic suffering and misery always accompany their termination.

It’s said that “every bubble is in search of a pin”. History certainly shows they always manage to find one.

History also shows that after the puncturing, pundits obsess over what precise pin triggered it, as if that matters.  It doesn’t, because ’cause’ of a bubble’s bursting can be anything.  It can be a wayward comment by a finance minister, otherwise innocuous at any other time, that spooks a critical European bond market at exactly the right (wrong?) moment, triggering a runaway cascade.

Or it might be the routine bankruptcy of a small company that unexpectedly exposes an under-hedged counterparty, thereby setting off a chain reaction across the corporate bond market before the contagion quickly spreads into other key elements of the financial system.

Or perhaps it will be the US Justice Department arresting a Chinese technology executive on murky, over-reaching charges to bully an ally into accepting that unilateral US sanctions are to be abided by everyone, regardless of sovereignty.

How was it that the famous Tulip Bulb bubble came to a crashing end back in the 1600’s?  No one knows the exact moment or trigger. But we can easily imagine that in some Dutch pub on the fateful night on the Feb 3rd1637, a bidder on the most-coveted of all bulbs, the Semper Augustus, had an upset stomach and briefly grimaced when hit by a ripping gas pain:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Global Dearth of Liquidity

A Global Dearth of Liquidity

Worldwide Liquidity Drought – Money Supply Growth Slows Everywhere

This is a brief update on money supply growth trends in the most important currency areas outside the US (namely the euro area, Japan and China)  as announced in in our recent update on US money supply growth (see “Federal Punch Bowl Removal Agency” for the details).

Nobody likes a drought. This collage illustrates why.

The liquidity drought is not confined to the US – it is fair to say that it is a global phenomenon, even though money supply growth rates in the euro area and Japan superficially still look fairly brisk. However, they are in the process of slowing down quite rapidly from much higher levels – and this trend seems set to continue.

Euro Area – Money Supply Growth Still High, But Slowing Fast

The chart below shows the euro area’s narrow money supply aggregate M1 (stock) and its year-on-year growth rate. M1 in the euro area is almost equivalent to US TMS-2, which makes it a good enough stand-in (it includes savings deposits that are in practice payable on demand; however, it lacks euro deposits belonging to foreign residents and central government deposits).

It is worth noting that a slowdown to a 0% growth rate triggered crisis conditions in 2008. After a sharp, but short term spike in money supply growth after the ECB made emergency liquidity facilities available to European banks to mitigate the fallout from the US housing bubble implosion, crisis conditions promptly returned when these facilities expired and money supply growth fell to around 1% in 2011.

Euro area, M1 (~TMS-2): Total in millions of EUR (blue line) and y/y rate of change (orange line). We have highlighted the three most recent slowdowns in money supply growth associated with economic crises and declining asset prices.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

QE Created Dangerous Financial Dependence, Italy Hooked, Withdrawal Next, ECB Warns

QE Created Dangerous Financial Dependence, Italy Hooked, Withdrawal Next, ECB Warns

“Who will purchase the €275 billion of government debt Italy is to issue in 2019?”

The ECB, through its army of official mouthpieces, has begun warning of the potentially calamitous consequences for Italian bonds when its QE program comes to an end, which is scheduled to happen at the end of this year.

During a speech in Vienna on Tuesday, Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny pointed out that Italy’s central bank, under the ECB’s guidance, is the biggest buyer of Italian government debt. The Bank of Italy, on behalf of the ECB, has bought up more than €360 billion of multiyear treasury bonds (BTPs) since the QE program was first launched in March 2015.

In fact, the ECB is now virtually the only significant net buyer of Italian bonds left standing. This raises a key question, Nowotny said: With the ECB scheduled to exit the bond market in roughly six weeks time, “who will purchase the roughly €275 billion of government securities Italy is forecast to issue in 2019?”

With foreigners shedding a net €69 billion of Italian government bonds since May, when the right-wing League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement took the reins of government, and Italian banks in no financial position to expand their already bloated holdings, it is indeed an important question (and one we’ve been asking for well over a year).

According to former Irish central bank governor and ex-member of the ECB’s Governing Council Patrick Honohan, speaking at an event in London, when the ECB’s support is removed, “the yield on Italian government bonds will be much more vulnerable.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Take Heed Italy, Brussels Doesn’t Care One Whit About You

Take Heed Italy, Brussels Doesn’t Care One Whit About You

Take Heed Italy, Brussels Doesn’t Care One Whit About You

Watching the complete betrayal of Brexit by British Prime Minister Theresa “The Gypsum Lady” May is proving to be a wake up call for Italians. The latest polling results coming out of Italy show that while the populist coalition in Italy is unpopular in Brussels it is still very popular with Italians.

And that’s a good thing because when you look closely at Brexit negotiations it is clear that all that matters is the EU retaining power over the U.K. and not what is in the best interest of anyone involved, British or otherwise.

The Italian coalition partners still command nearly 60% of all Italians’ support, only their preference has changed. Lega now outpolls Five Star Movement (M5S) 33% to 26%, while the other center-right parties, namely Silvio “Stalking Horse” Berlusconi’s Forza Italia have collapsed (from 14% at March’s elections to just 7% now).

And roughly that same number now see the EU as mistreating Italy. These numbers will only get worse if the EU goes through with levying fines against Italy for submitting a budget Brussels doesn’t like.

Moreover, now we’re seeing support for Italeave rise as well. A recent poll by Politico Magazine posted over at Zerohedge shows a slight majority of Italians under age 45 are ready to do just that, leave the European Union.

The over 45 crowd is still enamored with the ideal of the EU tying together a warring Europe rather than confront the reality of what it actually is, a distant and tyrannical oligarchy led by unelected technocrats with strong ties to old money and old power.

The source of this support comes from, I think, the stark contrast between May’s appeasement of rankled EU leadership over the British people’s temerity to want out of their wretched union and how Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is attacking Brussels’ hypocrisy over fiscal restraints.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Eurozone Banks’ Trillion Timebomb

The Eurozone Banks’ Trillion Timebomb

Eurozone banks have fallen dramatically in the stock market despite the results of the stress tests carried out by the ECB, and the EU Banks Index is down 25% on the year despite year-long bullish recommendations from almost every broker. This should not surprise anyone because we have seen in the past that these tests are only a theoretical exercise. Moreover, stress tests’ results are widely challenged, and rightly so, because the exercise starts with the most ridiculous premise in economics: Ceteris Paribus, or “all else remaining equal”, which never happens. Every asset manager knows that risk builds slowly and happens fast.

Disappointing earnings, rising risk in the eurozone as well as in their diversification markets such as emerging economies, weak net income margins and low return on tangible equity are factors that have contributed to the weak performance of European banks. Investors are rightly suspicious about consensus estimates for 2019 with expectations of double-digit EPS growth rates. Those growth rates look impossible in the current macroeconomic scenario.

Eurozone banks have done a good job of strengthening their capital structure, reaching almost a one per cent per annum increase in Tier 1 core capital. The question is whether this improvement is enough.

Two factors weigh on sentiment.

. More than EUR104 billion of risky “hybrid bonds” (CoCos) are included in the calculation of core capital.

. The total volume of Non-Performing Loans across the European Union is still at around EUR 900 billion, well above pre-crisis levels, with a provision ratio of only 50.7%, according to the European Commission.  Although the ratio has declined to 4.4%, down by roughly 1 percentage point year-on-year, the absolute figure remains elevated and the provision ratio is too small.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Coming Monetary Crisis

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong, you said that next year, interest expenditure will most likely exceed military. Is this how the monetary crisis begins to unfold?

WR

ANSWER: The entire problem with this Quantitative Easing has been the plain fact that the government is the biggest debtor. This is the same model around the world. Lowering interest rates to encourage people to borrow is absurd when the greatest impact will be upon the government. Europe is now on life support thanks to the ECB. Even if we look at the United States, every 1% rise in interest rates adds $220 billion annually to America’s deficit.  Since we have exceeded the Bullish Reversal on Fed Rates on an annual basis, reaching the 5% level means the annual interest expenditures will be rise by about $1 trillion per year! This is just not a system that has much life expectancy before we enter a major Monetary Crisis that is off the charts.

Steen Jakobsen: The Four Horsemen Portend A Painful Reckoning

Steen Jakobsen: The Four Horsemen Portend A Painful Reckoning

Even the US is now ‘swimming naked’

Steen Jacobsen, Chief Economist and Chief Investment Officer of Saxo Bank sees economic slowdown ahead.

Specifically, his “Four Horseman” indicators: the drivers of economic growth, are all flashing red.

Jacobsen believes that the central banks will continue their liquidity tightening efforts for as long as they can get away with (i.e., until the financial markets start toppling over). In his opinion, they eased way too much for way too long; and the malinvestment and zombification that resulted needs to clear the system — and it will likely do so more violently and painful than the central banks will like:

I like to make things simple. Right now we have the Four Horsemen: the four drivers of the global economy. They are the quantity of money, which is falling; the price of money, which is rising; the price of energy,which is a tax on consumers and is rising; and globalization/productivity, which is falling.

So, if you look at the economy as a black box, I really don’t know what happens inside of it. But I can observe what goes into the black box: it’s these four things.

Globalization / productivity, we know that’s all about Trump, trade war and the likes. It’s not exactly improving; it’s actually worsening.

As for the quantity of money, a lot of people argue with me that the Central Banks are still expanding their balance sheets, but the fact of the matter is that the QT in terms of the U.S has been reducing the Federal Reserve balance sheet. And we have a stealth reduction of the balance sheet in terms of the Bank of Japan. The EBC would love to cut and is publicly committed to doing so. The Bank of England is doing its first hike. So the quantity of money is falling.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Italian Banks On Verge Of New Crisis After €400 Million Hole Emerges At Banca Carige

Remember the Italian “doom loop”?

Two months ago we reported that during the first Italian bond market freakout this May over the ascent of the populist due of Salvini-Di Maio to the Italian throne, Italian bank holdings of domestic government bonds rose by a record €28.4bn, more than what was seen during the peak of the European sovereign debt crisis of 2012. Visually, this is what the single biggest month of Italian bank purchases of BTPs in history looked like.

This vicious circle of Country X banks (in this case Italy) buying Country X bonds during times of stress – with the ECB’s trusty backstop – had for years been Europe’s dreaded sovereign bank doom loop. And, as Italy clearly demonstrated, repeated and aggressive attempts by European regulators and policymakers to finally break the “doom loop”, most recently with the introduction of the 2014 BRRD directive, which sought to remove the need for and possibility of bank bailouts, and instead ushered in bail ins, had been an abject failure.

On Monday traders got a harsh reminder of this when Italian banks came under renewed market focus, and selling, due to their inflated holdings of the country’s government bonds whose value has tumbled since May – just as they doubled down on their BTP purchases.

This time, the epicenter of the bank rout was Banca Carige, Italy’s last remaining large problem bank; weakened by years of mismanagement and shareholder infighting, it has fallen behind in the restructuring process that has seen rivals shed bad debts in the past two years. And according to Reuters, healthy Italian banks will be needed to help fill a €400 million hole on Banca Carige’s balance sheet “in order to avert a possible crisis that would further destabilize the sector.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Europe In Panic Mode Over Economy As USA Soars

Europe In Panic Mode Over Economy As USA Soars


The eurozone’s economic growth rate has slumped to a four-year low.

The eurozone could not borrow from the momentum of the U.S. economy in the third quarter as economic growth slumped to a tepid 0.2%, the slowest rate in more than four years. With the 19-nation currency bloc beginning to stagnate, and the heavyweights failing to post significant gains, Brussels is in panic mode, likely leaning on the European Central Bank (ECB) for further stimulus.

Economists originally anticipated growth of 0.4%. But global trade woes, tumbling business confidence, Italian distress, and the gradual dissipation of an accommodative monetary policy all contributed to the poor numbers in the July-September period.

…the eurozone is not prepared to contain a new financial crisis…

Italy fell into stagnation, failing to record any growth. Rome has been contending with a debt crisis, sending the yield (interest rates) on government bond prices higher. Officials are embroiled in a contentious battle with the EU because their borrowing plans violate the trade bloc’s rules. There is now talk of a Keynesian-style fiscal stimulus to rev up the national economy.

France, which endured a terrible first half, reported a 0.4% increase, lower than the market forecast of 0.5%. The economy gained on surging business investment, household consumption, and net trade. While the figures are commendable, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire did not help matters when he suggested that the eurozone is not prepared to contain a new financial crisis, adding that “it is in no one’s interest that Italy be in difficulty.”

Germany, the economic engine of the eurozone, will not publish its Q3 numbers until mid-November. But the Bundesbank has warned that growth might have flat-lined in the previous quarter. Researchers do predict a recovery for Berlin in the final quarter of 2018, driven by a resurgence in the automobile sector and falling unemployment.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Bundesbank warns of Coming Pension Crisis

The Bundesbank has come out warning that there is a German pension crisis. They have proposed that states raise the pension tax and that they should gradually increase the retirement age because the life expectancy in the future has risen. Central Bank President, Jens Weidmann, has stated that he is generally in favor of raising the statutory retirement age beyond 67 years.

We must understand that the ECB policy of “stimulating” the economy with negative interest rates has bankrupted state pension plans. This theory that lowering interest rates to get people to borrow and thus manipulate demand higher has NEVER been proven to have ever worked. The consequence of what we now face is a major pension crisis that is undermining the future of Western economies.

The Italian people must understand that their country is at war

The Italian people must understand that their country is at war

The conflict between the European Union and Italy is a full-blown financial war. Euro countries cannot print their own money and for that reason they cannot have an endless deficit. Countries within the eurozone have to live within their means or else, without the intervention of the ECB, they will go bankrupt. Nobody knows the consequences of an Italian default and debt restructuring, but it can lead to the end of the euro.

To make the euro sustainable, the European financial elites want the Italians to reduce their spending and turn a budget deficit into a budget surplus. However, due to the country’s shrinking population the Italian budget deficit — as we have argued many times – can only increase. The European commission rejects the Italian budget because Rome wants to increase its debt far beyond the limit allowed by the ECB. “This is the first Italian budget that the EU doesn’t like,” wrote Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio on Facebook. “No surprise: This is the first Italian budget written in Rome and not in Brussels!”1)Matteo Salvini added: “This (the rejection of the Italian budget plan by the EU) doesn’t change anything.”. “They’re not attacking a government but a people. These are things that will anger Italians even more,” he said.2)

The country has entered a demographic winter3)and sustainable economic growth is simply impossible, at least for the foreseeable future. As is the case with the whole of Europe, the continent needs a plan to support an ageing and declining population. As if not aware of it, the Brussels-Frankfurt establishment only wants Italy to stick to their austerity program, i.e. decrease public spending and do away with the current Italian administration, which refuses to comply.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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