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10 Years Automatic Earth


Winslow Homer Mending the nets 1881
 

Yes, it’s 10 years ago today, on January 22 2008, that Nicole Foss and I published our first article on the Automatic Earth (the first few years on Blogger). And, well, obviously, a lot has happened in those 10 years.

For ourselves, we went from living in Ottawa, Canada to doing a lot of touring starting in 2009, to support Nicole’s DVDs and video downloads. We visited Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, US of course, with prolonged stays in France, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, times that I miss a lot here and there, to now with Nicole settled in New Zealand and my time divided between Athens, Greece and the Netherlands.

We met so many people both online and in the flesh in all these countries it’s impossible to remember everyone of them, and every town we found ourselves in. Overall, it was a humbling experience to have so many people share their views and secrets, especially since we never stayed at hotels (or very rarely), we were always invited to stay with our readers. Thank you so much for that.

Since we started publishing 8 months before the fall of Bear Stearns, and we very much predicted the crisis that followed (we had been doing that before as well, since 2005 at the Oil Drum), we were the first warning sign for many people that things were going off the rails.

There are still to this day people expressing their gratitude for that. Others, though, not so much. And that has to do with the fact that governments, media and central banks came together to create the illusion of an economic recovery, something many if not most people still believe in. Just read the headlines and the numbers, on housing markets, stocks, GDP, jobs. Unfortunately, it was an illusion then and it still is now.

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

The energy of Bitcoin, the information economy and the (possible) decentralization of the world

The energy of Bitcoin, the information economy and the (possible) decentralization of the world

The near vertical rise and fall in price of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin in recent months has been accompanied by reporting about the energy used to run the Bitcoin network. The amount is enormous, more than enough to supply the entire country of Ireland.

Many other cryptocurrencies operate under less energy-intensive designs. But the more than 1,000 other digital coins beyond Bitcoin certainly use a considerable amount of energy though there is no overall estimate I’m aware of. (For the technically minded, here is a discussion of two popular methods associated with validating transactions, one of which is considerably less energy-intensive.)

We’d like to think that the information economy of which these newfangled currencies are part bears lightly on the broader environment. But as I pointed out in my piece “The Unbearable Lightness of Information,” much of what happens in the information economy is simply focused on extracting more resources more quickly to create more goods and services for more customers. The physical economy isn’t disappearing. It is merely being exploited more completely using digital information.

And beyond this, “Every person who works in the so-called information sector of the economy must be housed, clothed, schooled, provided transportation, provisioned with household goods, given opportunities for entertainment and recreation, [and] supplied with a wide array of public services.”

Having said all this, I find one aspect of the blockchain technology behind the explosion in digital currencies to be promising. This technology offers a possible path for decentralizing banking and finance and myriad other Internet-related services we’ve come to rely on from big corporations.

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

James Howard Kunstler: It’s Time To Be Honest With Ourselves

The major systems our society relies on are failing
The ever-eloquent James Howard Kunstler returns to our podcast this week to discuss the dangers of the ‘comprehensive dishonesty’ he observes in our culture today.

We occupy ourselves with distractions (e.g., the fear du jour that our media continually manufactures) and diversions (e.g., our empty social media addiction), while ignoring the erosion of the essential systems around us. Making matters worse, the leaders we assume are focusing on these issues aren’t or are woefully out of their depth.

It’s time for society to take a hard look in the mirror and be honest about the shortcoming it sees. Identifying them then opens the door to deciding what to do about them.

Without the courage to be honest, we condemn ourselves to a failing status quo that likely has little remaining time left:

What we’re seeing is the result of behavior of people who have no idea what they’re doing. Most of the major systems that we rely on are entering a state of failure of one kind or another. And, of course, the larger problem is that they’re interlinked, and that their failures will be mutual and self-amplifying.

These systems include the energy system that has powered industrial civilization, the oil and gas industries which you’ve talked about a lot and I think that our listeners understand pretty well — although the finer points of it, like the ‘energy return on investment’, is something that’s certainly not understood by the general public, or most of the officers in our government, and certainly not in the New York Times, Washington Post or other major media outlets. They just don’t get that.

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

The Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017

 


Pablo Picasso Bull plates I-XI 1945
Nicole Foss has completed a huge tour de force with her update of the Automatic Earth Primer Guide. The first update since 2013 is now more like a Primer Library, with close to 160 articles and videos published over the past -almost- 10 years, and Nicole’s words to guide you through it. Here’s Nicole:

The Automatic Earth (TAE) has existed for almost ten years now. That is nearly ten years of exploring and describing the biggest possible big picture of our present predicament. The intention of this post is to gather all of our most fundamental articles in one place, so that readers can access our worldview in its most comprehensive form. For new readers, this is the place to start. The articles are roughly organised into topics, although there is often considerable overlap.

We are reaching limits to growth in so many ways at the same time, but it is not enough to understand which are the limiting factors, but also what time frame each particular subset of reality operates over, and therefore which is the key driver at what time. We can think of the next century as a race of hurdles we need to clear. We need to know how to prepare for each as it approaches, as we need to clear each one in order to be able to stay in the race.

TAE is known primarily as a finance site because finance has the shortest time frame of all. So much of finance exists in a virtual world in which changes can unfold very quickly. There are those who assume that changes in a virtual system can happen without major impact, but this assumption is dangerously misguided.

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

Banks Are Evil

Barandash Karandashich/Shutterstock

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…

Why We Are So Bad at Solving Problems

Before you raise your voice, please allow me to say that I do indeed know this starts to feel like a set of Russian dolls, and this is a re-run of a re-run. It’s just, I didn’t start it. Got a mail yesterday from the people at OpEdNews.com asking if I would allow them to repost something I wrote over a year ago. And since I’m notoriously bad at remembering anything I wrote even just 24 hours ago, when I read what they wanted to republish, it was almost like a whole new world opened up for me. And I kind of liked it.

And only then I saw that what they had read, which was published May 2, 2015 as Quote Of The Year. And The Next. And The One After, was actually largely a rerun of a January 1 2013 article. But, you know, when someone tells you “Your essay is excellent. And as one who has been closely attuned to such matters for nearly 50 years I can say with confidence that your theme is fresh and current as any other we should be reading and heeding today. In fact, I think it is timeless.”, A) you feel young, and B) you say: who am I to disagree with that?

So this today went up at OpEdNews.com, and is now once again up at The Automatic Earth as well. Because I do still think it’s relevant and important to acknowledge that “we are going to evolve through crisis, not through proactive change.”, and that we are nowhere near realizing how true that is, and how much that denial, unfortunately, guides our existence. We’re either not even smart monkeys, or we’re that at best. We need a lot more self-reflection than we are getting, or we’re going down. And my bet, much as it pains me, is on door no. 2. From May 5, 2015:

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

New Harbor: A Time For Staying Out Of Harms Way

New Harbor: A Time For Staying Out Of Harms Way

Preserving your financial capital

Given the brutal start to the markets in the first three weeks of 2016, we thought it a good time to check in with the team at New Harbor Financial. We have had them on our podcast periodically over the past years as the market churned to ever new highs, and have always appreciated their skepticism of these liquidity-driven “”markets”” as well as their unwavering commitment to risk management should the party in stocks end suddenly.

So, how is their risk-managed approach faring now that the S&P 500 has suddenly dropped 8% since Christmas? Quite well. Their general portfolio is flat for the year so far — evidence that caution, prudence and hedging can indeed preserve capital during market downdrafts.

We’ve invited the New Harbor team back on this week to hear their latest assessment on the markets, as well as how they’re approaching their portfolio positioning moving forward:

We spend a lot of time talking about position sizing. Right now we have very little in the stock market. We never cheer for a crash in the sense that we know a lot of people would likely get harmed in such a scenario, but we also spend our time assessing reality and probability. The likelihood of probability for a crash certainly has never been non-zero, but it has developed a greater likelihood than it had even just a few weeks ago. There has been a notable sentiment change.

I’d like to point out: we’re not even a month into the year and we have already clawed back over two years’ worth of gains in the stock market. Even if you look at the S&P 500, which has been the most lofty because of its capitalization-weighted nature, where we are at right now takes us all the way back near the end of 2013.

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

Reinventing Banking: From Russia to Iceland to Ecuador

Reinventing Banking: From Russia to Iceland to Ecuador

  • In Russia, vulnerability to Western sanctions has led to proposals for a banking system that is not only independent of the West but is based on different design principles.
  • In Iceland, the booms and busts culminating in the banking crisis of 2008-09 have prompted lawmakers to consider a plan to remove the power to create money from private banks.
  • In Ireland, Iceland and the UK, a recession-induced shortage of local credit has prompted proposals for a system of public interest banks on the model of the Sparkassen of Germany.
  • In Ecuador, the central bank is responding to a shortage of US dollars (the official Ecuadorian currency) by issuing digital dollars through accounts to which everyone has access, effectively making it a bank of the people.

Developments in Russia

In a November 2015 article titled “Russia Debates Unorthodox Orthodox Financial Alternative,” William Engdahl writes:

A significant debate is underway in Russia since imposition of western financial sanctions on Russian banks and corporations in 2014. It’s about a proposal presented by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church. The proposal, which resembles Islamic interest-free banking models in many respects, was first unveiled in December 2014 at the depth of the Ruble crisis and oil price free-fall. This August the idea received a huge boost from the endorsement of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It could change history for the better depending on what is done and where it further leads.

Engdahl notes that the financial sanctions launched by the US Treasury in 2014 have forced a critical rethinking among Russian intellectuals and officials. Like China, Russia has developed an internal Russian version of SWIFT Interbank payments; and it is now considering a plan to restructure Russia’s banking system. Engdahl writes:

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

The Political Consequences of Financial Crises

The Political Consequences of Financial Crises

LONDON – I may not be the only finance professor who, when setting essay topics for his or her students, has resorted to a question along the following lines: “In your view, was the global financial crisis caused primarily by too much government intervention in financial markets, or by too little?” When confronted with this either/or question, my most recent class split three ways.

Roughly a third, mesmerized by the meretricious appeal of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, argued that governments were the original sinners. Their ill-conceived interventions – notably the US-backed mortgage underwriters Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the Community Reinvestment Act – distorted market incentives. Some even embraced the argument of the US libertarian Ron Paul, blaming the very existence of the Federal Reserve as a lender of last resort.

Another third, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, saw former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan as the villain. It was Greenspan’s notorious reluctance to intervene in financial markets, even when leverage was growing dramatically and asset prices seemed to have lost touch with reality, that created the problem. More broadly, Western governments, with their light-touch approach to regulation, allowed markets to career out of control in the early years of this century.

The remaining third tried to have it both ways, arguing that governments intervened too much in some areas, and too little in others. Avoiding the question as put is not a sound test-taking strategy; but the students may have been onto something.

Now that the crisis is seven years behind us, how have governments and voters in Europe and North America answered this important question? Have they shown, by their actions, that they think financial markets need tighter controls or that, on the contrary, the state should repudiate bailouts and leave financial firms to face the full consequences of their own mistakes?

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

Where Candidates Fear to Tread

Where Candidates Fear to Tread

That the snarkier circles of political commentary thrill to the elephantine bellowings of Donald J. Trump only shows the pathetic limitations of the snarkists. They enjoy Trump’s filterless mouth, his harsh goadings of the other presidential wannabes, and his supposed telepathic empathy for the suffering public outside the magic kingdom of DC.

Trump has one legitimate issue, immigration, plus a brief against the general incompetence of professional politicians, and a pocketful of grandiose claims about his majestic skills in business and deal-making. As business goes in this huckster’s paradise, being a real estate developer is perhaps one click above being a car-dealer, and the fact that some of Trump’s artful deals end up in bankruptcy court might argue against his self-proclaimed mastery. Hence, his relegation to the clown category.

What Trump represents most vividly in this moment of history is the astounding lack of seriousness among people who pretend to be political heavyweights. No one so far, including the lovable Bernie Sanders, has nailed a proper bill of grievances to the White House gate. A broad roster of dire issues facing this society ought to be self-evident. But since they are absent so far in the public discussion, here is my list of matters that serious candidates should dare to talk about (all things that a sitting president could take action on):

The security state. America has developed the most horrifying state security apparatus that the world has ever seen in its NSA and associated agencies. It has become the sugar tit for some of the most malevolent enterprises of the corporatocracy — the black ops companies and the weapons dealers. The growth of this monster was not mandated by heaven. A president could lead the move to deconstruct it. A candidate with a decent respect for our heritage would make this a major campaign issue.

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

 

European Leaders Promise The Greek Debt Crisis Will Be Resolved One Way Or Another On Sunday

European Leaders Promise The Greek Debt Crisis Will Be Resolved One Way Or Another On Sunday

The End - Public DomainThe wait will soon be over.  Greece submitted a final compromise plan to its eurozone creditors on Thursday, European finance ministers will meet on Saturday to discuss the proposal, and an emergency summit of all 28 EU nations on Sunday will make a final decision on what to do.  The summit on Sunday is being billed as a “final deadline” and a “last chance” by EU officials.  In essence, Greece is being given one more opportunity to embrace the austerity measures that are being demanded of them by their creditors.  So has Greece gone far enough with this new proposal?  We shall find out on Sunday.

For months, the entire planet has been following this seemingly endless Greek debt saga.  Global financial markets have gyrated with every twist and turn of this ongoing drama, and many people have wondered if it would ever come to an end.  But now European leaders are promising us that the uncertainty is finally going to be over this weekend

This time, the leaders’ summit called for Sunday is being billed by all concerned as the definitive moment that will determine Greece’s future in the euro. It’s “really and truly the final wake-up call for Greece, but also for us — our last chance,” EU President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday, the day after the most recent emergency session.

So what is the general mood of European leaders as they head into this summit?

Overall, it does not appear to be overly optimistic.

For example, just consider what the head of the Bundesbank is saying

Bundesbank Chief Jens Weidmann, meanwhile, said that central banks have no mandate to safeguard the solvency of banks or governments, and stressed that emergency liquidity to Greece should not be increased.

And even normally upbeat leaders such as ECB President Mario Draghi are sounding quite sullen

 

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

Our Social Depression

Our Social Depression

This erosion of opportunities to complete life’s stages and core dramas is rarely recognized, much less addressed.

The consequences of economic stagnation are not limited to finance: stagnation is causing a social depression. We can best understand this social depression by examining how the natural stages of human life are being disrupted.

Each stage has various tasks, goals and duties, which establish the foundation for the next stage.Confucian thought views life as a developmental process with seven stages, each roughly corresponding to a decade: childhood, young adulthood (16-30), age of independence (30-39), age of mental independence (40-49), age of spiritual maturity (50-59), age of acceptance (60-69), and age of unification (70 – end of life).

I see each stage as centered on a core human drama: for the teenager, establishing an identity and life that is independent of parents; for the young adult, finding a mate and establishing a career; for the middle-aged, navigating the challenges of raising children and establishing some measure of financial security; for those in late middle-age, helping offspring reach independent adulthood and caring for aging parents; early old age, seeking fulfillment now that life’s primary duties have been accomplished and managing one’s health; and old age, the passage of accepting mortality and the loss of vitality.

The End of Secure Work and the diminishing returns of financialization are disrupting these core human dramas and frustrating those who are unable to proceed to the next stage of life:

1. Teenagers are being pressured to focus their lives on achieving a conventional financial success (see “Training for Discontent” in From Left Field) that is becoming harder to achieve.

2. Young adults without secure full-time careers cannot afford marriage or children, so they extend the self-absorption of late adolescence into middle age.

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

 

 

 

 

Recovery, Geopolitics and Detergents

Recovery, Geopolitics and Detergents

Increasingly over the past year or so, when people ask me what I do, and that happens a lot on a trip like the one I’m currently on in the world of down under, I find myself not just stating the usual ‘I write about finance and energy’, but adding: ‘it seems to become more and more about geopolitics too’. And it’s by no means just me: a large part of the ‘alternative finance blogosphere’, or whatever you wish to call it, is shifting towards that same orientation.

Not that no-one ever wrote about geopolitics before, but it used to be far less prevalent. Much of that, I think, has to do with a growing feeling of discontent with the manner in which a number of topics are handled by the major media and the political world. Moreover, as would seem obvious, certain topics lay bare in very transparent ways how finance and geopolitics are intertwined.

In the past year, we’ve seen the crash of the oil price, which will have – financial and political – effects in the future that dwarf what we’ve seen thus far. We’ve seen Europe and its banks stepping up their efforts to wrestle Greece into – financial and political – submission. And then there’s the nigh unparalleled propaganda machine that envelops the Ukraine-Crimea-Russia issue, which has bankrupted the economy of the first and imposed heavy economic sanctions on the latter, for political reasons.

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

 

 

Russia to launch alternative to SWIFT bank transaction system in spring 2015 — RT Business

Russia to launch alternative to SWIFT bank transaction system in spring 2015 — RT Business.

Russia intends to have its own international inter-bank system up and running by May 2015. The Central of Russia says it needs to speed up preparations for its version of SWIFT in case of possible ”challenges” from the West.

“Given the challenges, Bank of Russia is creating its own system for transmitting financial messaging… It’s time to hurry up, so in the next few months we will have certain work done. The entire project for transmitting financial messages will be completed in May 2015,” said Ramilya Kanafina, deputy head of the national payment system department at the Central Bank of Russia (CBR).

Calls not to use the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system in Russian banks began to grow as relations between Russia and the West deteriorated over sanctions. So far, SWIFT says despite pressure from some Western countries to join the anti-Russian sanctions, it has no intention of doing so.

…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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