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2017 Year In Review

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2017 Year In Review

Markets fiddle while Rome burns

Every year, friend-of-the-site David Collum writes a detailed “Year in Review” synopsis full of keen perspective and plenty of wit. This year’s is no exception. As with past years, he has graciously selected PeakProsperity.com as the site where it will be published in full. It’s quite longer than our usual posts, but worth the time to read in full. A downloadable pdf of the full article is available here, for those who prefer to do their power-reading offline. — cheers, Adam

Introduction

“He is funnier than you are.”

~David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital, on Dave Barry’s Year in Review

Every December, I write a survey trying to capture the year’s prevailing themes. I appear to have stiff competition—the likes of Dave Barry on one extreme1 and on the other, Pornhub’s marvelous annual climax that probes deeply personal preferences in the world’s favorite pastime.2 (I know when I’m licked.) My efforts began as a few paragraphs discussing the markets on Doug Noland’s bear chat board and monotonically expanded to a tome covering the orb we call Earth. It posts at Peak Prosperity, reposts at ZeroHedge, and then fans out from there. Bearishness and right-leaning libertarianism shine through as I spelunk the Internet for human folly to couch in snarky prose while trying to avoid the “expensive laugh” (too much setup).3 I rely on quotes to let others do the intellectual heavy lifting.

“Consider adding more of your own thinking and judgment to the mix . . . most folks are familiar with general facts but are unable to process them into a coherent and actionable framework.”

~Tony Deden, founder of Edelweiss Holdings, on his second read through my 2016 Year in Review

“Just the facts, ma’am.”

~Joe Friday

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

Doug Noland: There Will Be No Way Out When This Market Bubble Bursts

Doug Noland: There Will Be No Way Out When This Market Bubble Bursts

Financial assets will become toxic to hold

This week Doug Noland joins the podcast to discuss what he refers to as the “granddaddy of all bubbles”.

Noland, a 30-year market analyst and specialist in credit cycles, currently works at McAlvany Wealth Management and is well known for his prior 16-year stint helping manage the Prudent Bear Fund.

He certainly shares our views that prices in nearly every financial asset class have become remarkably distorted due to central bank intervention, first with Greenspan’s actions to backstop the markets in the late-1980’s, and more recently (and more egregiously) with the combined central banking cartel’s massive and sustained liquidity injections in the years following the Great Financial Crisis.

All of which has blown the biggest inter-connected set of asset price bubbles the world has ever seen.

Noland foresees tremendous losses as inevitable, as the central banks lose control of the monstrosity they have created:

This is the granddaddy of all bubbles. We are at the end a long cycle where the bubble has reached the heart of money and credit.

There will be no way out. We’re not going to get enough private credit growth to reflate things when this bubble bursts. It’s going to have to come from central bank credit; it’s going to have to come from sovereign debt.

When this bubble bursts, it will shock people how far the central banks will have to expand their balance sheet just to accommodate the deleveraging in the system. And they won’t really be able to add new liquidity to the market; they’re just going to allow the transfer of leveraged positions from the leveraged players onto the central bank balance sheets.

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

You’re Just Not Prepared For What’s Coming

You’re Just Not Prepared For What’s Coming

Not even close

I hate to break it to you, but chances are you’re just not prepared for what’s coming. Not even close.

Don’t take it personally. I’m simply playing the odds.

After spending more than a decade warning people all over the world about the futility of pursuing infinite exponential economic growth on a finite planet, I can tell you this: very few are even aware of the nature of our predicament.

An even smaller subset is either physically or financially ready for the sort of future barreling down on us. Even fewer are mentally prepared for it.

And make no mistake: it’s the mental and emotional preparation that matters the most. If you can’t cope with adversity and uncertainty, you’re going to be toast in the coming years.

Those of us intending to persevere need to start by looking unflinchingly at the data, and then allowing time to let it sink in.  Change is coming – which isn’t a problem in and of itself. But it’s pace is likely to be. Rapid change is difficult for humans to process.

Those frightened by today’s over-inflated asset prices fear how quickly the current bubbles throughout our financial markets will deflate/implode. Who knows when they’ll pop?  What will the eventual trigger(s) be? All we know for sure is that every bubble in history inevitably found its pin.

These bubbles – blown by central bankers serially addicted to creating them (and then riding to the rescue to fix them) – are the largest in all of history. That means they’re going to be the most destructive in history when they finally let go.

Millions of households will lose trillions of dollars in net worth. Jobs will evaporate, causing the tens of millions of families living paycheck to paycheck serious harm.

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

Fed Official Decries Bitcoin as “Not Backed”

Fed Official Decries Bitcoin as “Not Backed”

Bitcoin is backed by the use value of the distributed ledger in the underlying technology of the Blockchain.
Randal K. Quarles, a Trump administration appointee to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and Vice Chair for bank supervision, has given a lengthy speech (“Thoughts on Prudent Innovation in the Payment System”) that directly targets Bitcoin as a danger to the monetary and financial system.

To reiterate, an official speaking for the nation’s central bank that manages the global reserve currency – the institution that has long bragged about its power to bail out the entire world with the magic powers of the alchemist – has put down Bitcoin for being untrustworthy, unbacked, and unsound.

Discrediting Crypto

The timing here seems about right. Nine years ago, Bitcoin was born, but only a small group of developers were really paying attention. Today, there are lines forming at Bitcoin ATMs around the country as people scramble to convert cash to digital money even at absurdly high premiums.

With one unit of Bitcoin now worth 10,000 times the US dollar, it makes sense that the Fed would begin to feel a bit defensive. Indeed, the speech comes to the defense of the central bank, the existing money, and payment system networks, and calls for the pace of innovation to be controlled by regulators in the interest of “prudence.”

His summary criticism of Bitcoin is that:

The “currency” or asset at the center of some of these systems is not backed by other secure assets, has no intrinsic value, is not the liability of a regulated banking institution, and in leading cases, is not the liability of any institution at all. Indeed, how to treat and define this new asset is complicated.

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

Ron Paul: We Are Reaching A Point Of No Return

Ron Paul: We Are Reaching A Point Of No Return

When the system will break no matter what the Fed tries

Ron Paul Book: The Revolution At Ten Years

Dr. Ron Paul has long been a leading voice for limited constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, sound money, civil liberty, and non-interventionist foreign policies.

Dr. Paul served as the US Representative for Texas’s 27th Congressional District from 1976 to 1985. He then represented the 14th district from 1977 to 2013. He ran for the office of US President, three times, most recently in the 2012 Republican primaries. Dr. Paul also had a long career as an OBGYN over which he delivered more than 4,000 babies.

The recent author of the book, The Revolution At Ten Years, Dr. Paul looks ahead at the future of the movement he helped launch — tackling central planning, the military empire, cultural Marxism, the surveillance state, the deep state, and the real threats from these institutions to our civil liberties.

As a multi-term member of Congress, Dr. Paul knows the players and policies responsible for the growing unfairness and inequality now rampant in society. He does not expect the offenders will reform willingly. Instead, he predicts the system will collapse under its own unsustainability — offering a rare and valuable chance then for more sound and fair solutions to prevail:

Wealth doesn’t come from the creation of money, especially a fiat system. With too much fiat money and all this credit, eventually the economy becomes exhausted and engulfed with debt and mal-investments. The treatment for this is a correction; you have to allow the debt to be liquidated. You have to get rid of the mal-investment and you have and to allow real economic growth to start all over again. But that wasn’t permitted in ’08 and ’09, which is why there’s been stagnation.

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

What Could Pop The Everything Bubble?

A crisis that can’t be solved by just printing more dollars

I’ve long held that if a problem can be solved by creating $1 trillion out of thin air and buying a raft of assets with that $1 trillion, then central banks will solve the problem by creating the $1 trillion out of thin air—nothing could be easier.

This is the lesson of the past eight years: if a problem can be solved by creating new money and buying assets, then central banks will solve that problem.

Problem: stock market is declining. Solution: create new money and buy, buy, buy stock index funds. Problem solved! Market stops falling and quickly rebounds as “central banks have our backs.”

Problem: interest rates are inhibiting lending and growth. Solution: create a few trillion units of currency and buy enough sovereign bonds to drop interest rates to near-zero.

Problem: nobody’s left who can afford to buy the new nosebleed-priced flats that underpin China’s miracle-grow economy. Solution: create new currency, lend it to local government agencies who then buy the empty flats.

Problem: stagnant employment and deflation. Solution: create a trillion in new currency, buy a trillion in new government bonds that then fund infrastructure projects, i.e. bridges to nowhere.

And so on. Any problem that can be solved by creating a few trillion out of thin air and buying assets will be solved.  The mechanism to solve these problems—creating currency out of nothing—is like a perpetual motion machine: there are no intrinsic limits on the amount of new money that can created at near-zero interest, as the interest payments can be funded by new money.

Even better, the central bank (the Federal Reserve) buys Treasury bonds with the new currency that generate income, which is then returned to the Treasury: a perpetual-motion money machine!

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

Political Economics

Political Economics

Who President Trump ultimately picks as the next Federal Reserve Chairman doesn’t really matter. Unless he goes really far afield to someone totally unexpected, whoever that person will be will be largely more of the same. It won’t be a categorical change, a different philosophical direction that is badly needed.

Still, politically, it does matter to some significant degree. It’s just that the political division isn’t the usual R vs. D, left vs. right. That’s how many are making it out to be, and in doing so exposing what’s really going on.

As usual, the perfect example for these divisions is provided by Paul Krugman. The Nobel Prize Winner ceased being an economist a long time ago, and has become largely a partisan carnival barker. He opines about economic issues, but framed always from that perspective.

To the very idea of a next Fed Chair beyond Yellen, he wrote a few weeks ago, “we’re living in the age of Trump, which means that we should actually expect the worst.” Dr. Krugman wants more of the same, and Candidate Trump campaigned directly against that. As such, there is the non-trivial chance that President Trump lives up to that promise.

Again, it sounds like a left vs. right issue, but it isn’t. The political winds are changing, and the parties themselves are being realigned in different directions (which is not something new; there have been several re-alignments throughout American history even though the two major parties have been entrenched since the 1850’s when Republicans first appeared). Who the next Fed Chair is could tell us something about how far along we are in this evolution.

What Krugman wants, meaning, it is safe to assume, what all those like him want, is simple: success. He believes that the central bank has given us exactly that, therefore it is stupid to upset what works.

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

Betrayal!

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Betrayal!

The pervasive & defining crime of our age

Let me apologize in advance for what may be an upsetting piece of writing for some of you. If you’re in a state of shock or exhaustion from recent events, perhaps you should skip this one.

I don’t offer this analysis in order to further distress anyone — but until you understand what is happening and how that influences your psychological state, you’ll remain the emotional equivalent of a rag doll shaken to-and-fro by events.

Such understanding may not bring you to a place of calm acceptance. But it will set you free.

Betrayal

The recent acts of violence in the US, especially the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, are not arising out of a vacuum. Nor are the Brexit vote, the election of Trump, or the recent Catalonian vote for secession, random unconnected acts.

These — and future similarly disruptive events sure to come — are all arising out of the fact that we all have been betrayed.

For the purposes of this article, let’s define betrayal as:

the sense of being harmed by the intentional actions of a trusted person or institution. The emotional impacts of betrayal may include shock, a sense of loss, grief, damaged self-esteem, humiliation, self-doubt, shame, and anger.

We’re betrayed every time our trust is violated, in small ways or large. An example of a small betrayal might be hiding a frivolous purchase from your partner when you’ve both agreed to stick to a shared budget. A larger betrayal would be infidelity.

But betrayals aren’t limited to relationships between individuals. They can be perpetrated across groups, even nations. Like the enormous betrayal of trust committed when the US sent its military into Iraq on the basis of falsified ‘intelligence’.

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

You’re Likely A Lot Less Prepared For Crisis Than You Realize

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You’re Likely A Lot Less Prepared For Crisis Than You Realize

Lessons from the recent rash of natural disasters

It seems as if Mother Nature is waking up. Either she’s trying to send humans an important warning, or perhaps she’s just out to kill us all.

Massive storms across the globe, earthquakes, and collapsing ecosystems all combine to remind us that we are indeed intimately connected to our planet’s natural systems. And that our well-being rests on staying on Mother Nature’s good side.

Well, Mother Nature has seemed pretty pissed at us of late. Her recent punishments should be taken as a disciplinary wake-up call: It’s time.

It’s time to prepare, everyone. Way past time.

And it’s time to recognize that there are multiplying failure points across the many systems we depend on for our way of life — both natural and man-made. For example:

  • The wealth gap between the rich and the poor is now grossly obscene and yet still growing wider.
  • Our industrially-farmed soils are being depleted of their nutrients.
  • Species are going extinct every single day.
  • Global oil consumption ticks higher every year.
  • Stock price overvaluation is about the highest it’s ever been.
  • Bonds have never been more expensive (i.e. yields have never been lower) in all of recorded history.
  • Debt levels have never been higher (both globally and, in most cases, locally).
  • The planet’s population continues to explode (7.5 billion today, 10 billion by 2050) while key resources deplete at accelerating rates.

Only the foolish, or the seriously self-deluded, would think that these observations and trends will be consequence-free.

Which means we have to begin doing things very differently. We have to change who we are, the actions we take, the investments we prioritize, and even our most fundamental values and priorities.

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

How Capitalist Central Banks Have Been Creating the Next Financial Crisis

How Capitalist Central Banks Have Been Creating the Next Financial Crisis

As central bankers, finance ministers, and government policy makers head off to their annual gathering at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this August, 24-26, 2017, the key topic is whether the leading central banks in North America and Europe will continue to raise interest rates this year; another topic high on the agenda is when the three major central banks – the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of England – might begin to sell off their combined $9.8 trillion dollar balance sheets that they accumulated since the 2008-09 banking crisis.

But the more fundamental question – little discussed by central bankers and academics alike – is what are the likely effects of further immediate rate hikes and/or commencement of central banks’ balance sheet reductions? The assumption is further rate hikes and sell-offs will have little negative impact on the real economy or financial markets. But will they? The effects of hikes and sell off will prove the opposite of what they predict.

Central banks in the US and Europe were grossly in error predicting in 2008 that massive liquidity injections and zero interest rates would re-stimulate their economies and return them to pre-crisis real GDP growth rates. They are now about to repeat a similar error, as they presume that raising those rates, and retracting excess liquidity by selling off balance sheets, will not have a significant negative impact on the real economy or financial markets.

Central banks’ balance sheets have been growing for almost nine years, driven by programs of zero-bound (ZIRP) interest rates and the introduction of firehose liquidity injections enabled by quantitative easing, QE, bond and other securities purchases.

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

Why The Markets Are Overdue For A Gigantic Bust

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Why The Markets Are Overdue For A Gigantic Bust

It’s just not possible to print our way to prosperity
Let me begin with a caveat: confirmation bias is an ever-present risk for an analyst such as myself.

If you’re not familiar with the term, ‘confirmation bias’ suggests that once we’ve invested time and emotional energy into developing a worldview, we’ll then seek information to confirm that view.

After writing about the economy for so many years, I’m now so convinced that we can’t print our way to prosperity that I find myself seeing signs confirming this view everywhere, every single day. So that’s the danger to be aware of when listening to me.  I’m going to keep repeating this mantra and Im going to keep finding data that supports this view.

Based on lots of historical inputs, I have concluded that Printing money out of thin air can engineer lots of things, including asset price bubbles and the redistribution of wealth from the masses to the elites.  But it cannot print up real prosperity.

As much as I try, I simply cannot jump on the bandwagon that says that printing up money out of thin air has any long-term utility for an economy. It’s just too clear to me that doing so presents plenty of dangers, due to what we might call ‘economic gravity’: What goes up, must also come down.

Which brings us to this chart:

The 200 bubble blown by Greenspan was bad, the next one by Bernanke was horrible, but this one by Yellen may well prove fatal.  At least to entire financial markets, large institutions, and a few sovereigns.

It’s essential to note that more than two-thirds of the net worth tracked in the above chart is now comprised of ‘financial assets.’  That is, paper claims on real things.

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

The Federal Reserve Is Destroying America

The Federal Reserve Is Destroying America

And wait until you hear what they’re getting away with now

Perhaps I should start with a disclaimer of sorts. Yes, I realize that the people working at the Federal Reserve, as well as the other central banks around the world, are just people.  Like the rest of us, they have egos, fears, worries, hopes, and dreams. I’m sure pretty much all of them go home each night believing they are basically good and caring individuals, doing important work.

But they’re destroying America.  They might have good intentions, but they are working with bad models. Ones that lead to truly horrible outcomes.

One of the chief failings of central banks is that they are slaves to an impossible idea; the notion that humans are free to pursue perpetual exponential economic growth on a finite planet.  To be more specific: central banks are actually in the business of promoting perpetual exponential growth of debt.

But since growth in credit drives growth in consumption, the two are concepts are so intimately linked as to be indistinguishable from each other.  They both rest upon an impossibility.  Central banks are in the business of sustaining the unsustainable which is, of course, an impossible job.

I can only guess at the amount of emotional energy required to maintain the integrity of the edifice of self-delusion necessary to go home from a central banking job feeling OK about oneself and one’s role in the world.  It must be immense.

I rather imagine it’s not unlike the key positions of leadership at Easter Island around the time the last trees were being felled and the last stone heads were being erected.  “This is what we do,” they probably said to each other and their followers.  “This is what we’ve always done.  Pay no attention to those few crackpot haters who warn that in pursuing our way of life we’re instead destroying it.”

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

Where There’s Smoke…

Where There’s Smoke…

…There’s central bank manipulation

Central banks around the world have colluded, if not conspired, to elevate and prop up financial asset prices.  Here we’ll present the data and evidence that they’ve not only done so, but gone too far.

When wee discuss elevated financial asset prices we really are talking about everything.

we’re talking not just about the sky-high prices of stocks and bonds, but also of the trillions of dollars’ worth of derivatives that are linked to them, as well as real estate in dozens of countries and locations.  All are intricately linked together. For instance, stocks are elevated, in part, because bond yields are so low.  Sam for real estate.

Here are three questions most alert investors are asking:

  • Question #1: When will financial assets ever ‘correct’ and fall in price?
  • Question #2: How much does overt propping by the central banks have to do with today’s elevated prices?
  • Question #3: How much does covert propping by central banks play a role in these inflated markets?

These are important questions to consider because if central banks have been too involved and gotten themselves mixed up in trying to ‘wag the dog’ by using elevated financial asset prices as a means to drive economic expansion — then the risk is a big implosion in financial asset prices if their efforts fail.

The difficulty, as always, is that you can’t print your way to prosperity.  It’s never worked in history and it won’t work this time either.  You can, however, print (or borrow) to delay a correction, after which a boost in real economic growth (or additional income) had better materialize to save your bacon.   But if enough growth does not emerge to both pay back all the old outstanding loans plus all the newly created debt and currency, then you’re going to experience a worse correction than if you had not tried to print/borrow your way to prosperity.

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

Why This Market Needs To Crash

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Why This Market Needs To Crash

And likely will 

Like an old vinyl record with a well-worn groove, the needle skipping merrily back to the same track over and over again, we repeat: Today’s markets are dangerously overpriced.

Being market fundamentalists who don’t believe it’s possible to simply print prosperity out of thin air, we’ve been deeply skeptical of the financial markets ever since the central banks began their highly interventionist policies. Since 2009, they have unleashed over $12 Trillion in new money into the world, concentrating wealth into the hands of an elite few, while blowing asset price bubbles everywhere in the process (see our recent report The Mother Of All Financial Bubbles).

Our consistent view is that price bubbles always burst. Which is why we predict the world’s financial markets will implode spectacularly from today’s heights — destroying jobs, dreams, hopes, economies and political careers alike.

When this happens, it will frighten the central bankers enough (or merely embarrass them enough, being the egotists that they are) that they will respond with even more aggressive money printing — and that will then cause the entire money system to blow up.  Ka-Poom!  First inwards in a compressed ball of deflation, then exploding outwards in a final hyperinflationary fireball (see our recent report When This All Blows Up…).

It really cannot end any other way.  Money is not wealth; it is merely a claim on wealth.  Debt is a claim on future money.  The only way to have faith in our current monetary policies is if one believes that we can always grow our debts at roughly twice the rate of GDP — forever.   That is, compound the claims at twice the rate of income year after year from here on out.

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

Banks Are Evil

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Banks Are Evil

It’s time to get painfully honest about this 

I don’t talk to my classmates from business school anymore, many of whom went to work in the financial industry.

Why?

Because, through the lens we use here at PeakProsperity.com to look at the world, I’ve increasingly come to see the financial industry — with the big banks at its core — as the root cause of injustice in today’s society. I can no longer separate any personal affections I might have for my fellow alumni from the evil that their companies perpetrate.

And I’m choosing that word deliberately: Evil.

In my opinion, it’s long past time we be brutally honest about the banks. Their influence and reach has metastasized to the point where we now live under a captive system. From our retirement accounts, to our homes, to the laws we live under — the banks control it all. And they run the system for their benefit, not ours.

While the banks spent much of the past century consolidating their power, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Actin 1999 emboldened them to accelerate their efforts. Since then, the key trends in the financial industry have been to dismantle regulation and defang those responsible for enforcing it, to manipulate market prices (an ambition tremendously helped by the rise of high-frequency trading algorithms), and to push downside risk onto “muppets” and taxpayers.

Oh, and of course, this hasn’t hurt either: having the ability to print up trillions in thin-air money and then get first-at-the-trough access to it. Don’t forget, the Federal Reserve is made up of and run by — drum roll, please — the banks.

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

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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