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The Long Run Economics of Debt Based Stimulus

Something both unwanted and unexpected has tormented western economies in the 21st century.  Gross domestic product (GDP) has moderated onward while government debt has spiked upward.  Orthodox economists continue to be flummoxed by what has transpired.

What happened to the miracle? The Keynesian wet dream of an unfettered fiat debt money system has been realized, and debt has been duly expanded at every opportunity.  Although the fat lady has so far only cleared her throat (if quite audibly, in 2008) and hasn’t really sung yet, it is already clear that calling this system careening toward a catastrophic failure.

Here is the United States, since the turn of the new millennium (starting January 1, 2001) real GDP has increased from roughly $10.5 trillion to $18.6 trillion, or 77 percent.  Over this same time government debt has spiked nearly 250 percent from about $5.7 trillion to $19.9 trillion.  Obviously, some sort of reckoning’s in order to bring the books back into balance.

Throughout this extended episode of economic and financial discontinuity, the government’s solution to jump-starting the economy has been to borrow money and spend it.  Thus far, these efforts have succeeded in digging a massive hole that the economy will somehow have to climb out of.  We’re doubtful such a feat will ever be attained.

In short, additions of government debt over this time have been at a diminishing return.  Specifically, at the start of the new millennium the debt to GDP ratio was about 54 percent.  Today, it’s well over 100 percent.

US GDP and US federal debt, indexed (1984 = 100). Mises noted back in the late 1940s already that “it is obvious that sooner or later all these debts will be liquidated in some way or other, but certainly not by payment of interest and principal according to the terms of the contract.

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

Eric Peters: “If China And The World Bank Are Right, We’re Headed For A Depression”

Eric Peters: “If China And The World Bank Are Right, We’re Headed For A Depression”

“Some people blindly invested offshore and were in a rush to do so,” explained China’s central bank chief, justifying his recent capital controls.

“Some of this outbound investment was not in line with our own policies and had no real gain for China.” No doubt he’s right. The tycoons fleeing Chinese capital markets have done so selfishly. “So to regulate capital flows, I think it is normal,” concluded the central banker.

Chinese credit relative to GDP has doubled in the past decade to 300%. Which remains less than the US at 350%, but the rate of Chinese credit growth is as unsustainable as it is difficult to reverse — without tanking the economy. The tycoons are running from this dynamic. Because such loops almost always end badly. 

Anyhow, after so many years of secular stagnation fears, global investors have grown conditioned to run. They’ve been running away from fear for so long, they’ve forgotten how to run toward greed. Which has left them blindly holding over $10trln of bonds, which yield negative interest.

Now, this might make sense in a deflationary depression. But the global economy has not seen such strong synchronized cyclical growth in years. Inflation is likewise firming everywhere.

But China lowered its growth target again. As the World Bank warned that today’s strong global upswing in confidence and financial markets are not enough to pull the world out of a “low-growth trap.” If they’re right, we’re surely headed for depression. Because all this new debt requires robust economic strength to shoulder the weight.

But European debt markets are still largely priced for depression. And with JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon announcing the return of animal spirits in America’s economy, it seems more likely that this cycle ends like every other. With a blind run toward greed.

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

China Central Bank Admits It Has A Debt Problem, Warns No Easy Solution

China Central Bank Admits It Has A Debt Problem, Warns No Easy Solution

It’s a well-known risk, perhaps the biggest to the global financial system: China’s debt is too high, with estimates ranging from 250% to 300% of GDP per the IIF:

And while China has largely ignored, or avoided, discussing the troubling implications of its unprecedented debt load, this changed today when the head of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiachuan finally admitted that it has a debt “problem” saying that corporate debt levels are too high and that “it will take time to bring them down to more manageable levels”, underlining what has become the defining battle to put the world’s second-largest economy on a more sustainable footing: keeping GDP growing at 6.5% (or above) while injecting trillions in new debt.

“Non-financial corporate leverage is too high,” PBOC Governor Zhou Xiaochuan told reporters at a news conference on the sidelines of the annual parliament session.

Quoted by Reuters, he said that efforts will be made to contain debt levels, including restructuring of firms with heavy debt burdens, alongside a push to reduce excess industrial capacity.  Furthermore, banks will withdraw support for financially unviable firms, he added, repeating pledges by other officials last year to drive such “zombie” firms out of the market.

“I personally think this process is relatively medium-term. It won’t have very obvious results in the short-term because the existing stock (of debt) is very large,” he said.


Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the People’s Bank of China, attends a news 

conference in Beijing China March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Zhou also said that measures by local governments to cool rising house prices will slow mortgage growth to some degree, but housing loans will continue to grow at a relatively rapid pace. We profiled China’s mortgage debt problem last October when we showed that over 70% of all new loans went to fund mortgages, which in turn now account for a fifth of total Chinese outstanding loans.

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

Bill Gross: “Our Financial System Is A Truckload Of Nitroglycerin On A Bumpy Road”

Bill Gross: “Our Financial System Is A Truckload Of Nitroglycerin On A Bumpy Road”

Courtesy of Bill Gross’ latest monthly letter “Show Me The Money“, here are some perspectives on the only thing that has kept the global economy going since the financial crisis: debt, and lost of it.
in 2017, the global economy has created more credit relative to GDP than that at the beginning of 2008’s disaster. In the U.S., credit of $65 trillion is roughly 350% of annual GDP and the ratio is rising. In China, the ratio has more than doubled in the past decade to nearly 300%. Since 2007, China has added $24 trillion worth of debt to its collective balance sheet. Over the same period, the U.S. and Europe only added $12 trillion each. Capitalism, with its adopted fractional reserve banking system, depends on credit expansion and the printing of additional reserves by central banks, which in turn are re-lent by private banks to create pizza stores, cell phones and a myriad of other products and business enterprises. But the credit creation has limits and the cost of credit (interest rates) must be carefully monitored so that borrowers (think subprime) can pay back the monthly servicing costs. If rates are too high (and credit as a % of GDP too high as well), then potential Lehman black swans can occur. On the other hand, if rates are too low (and credit as a % of GDP declines), then the system breaks down, as savers, pension funds and insurance companies become unable to earn a rate of return high enough to match and service their liabilities. 

U.S. Total Credit Market Debt as a Percent of GDP

Chart: U.S. Total Credit Market Debt as a Percent of GDP

Central banks attempt to walk this fine line – generating mild credit growth that matches nominal GDP growth – and keeping the cost of the credit at a yield that is not too high, nor too low, but just right. Janet Yellen is a modern day Goldilocks.

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

Europe or Anti-Europe?

Europe or Anti-Europe?

MILAN – A knowledgeable friend in Milan recently asked me the following question: “If an outside investor, say, from the United States, wanted to invest a substantial sum in the Italian economy, what would you advise?” I replied that, although there are many opportunities to invest in companies and sectors, the overall investment environment is complicated. I would recommend investing alongside a knowledgeable domestic partner, who can navigate the system, and spot partly hidden risks.

Of course, the same advice applies to many other countries as well, such as China, India, and Brazil. But the eurozone is increasingly turning into a two-speed economic bloc, and the potential political ramifications of this trend are amplifying investors’ concerns.

At a recent meeting of high-level investment advisers, one of the organizers asked everyone if they thought the euro would still exist in five years. Only one person out of 200 thought that it would not – a rather surprising collective assessment of the trending risks, given Europe’s current economic situation.

Right now, Italy’s real (inflation-adjusted) GDP is roughly at its 2001 level. Spain is doing better, but its real GDP is still around where it was in 2008, just prior to the financial crisis. And Southern European countries, including France, have experienced extremely weak recoveries and stubbornly high unemployment – in excess of 10%, and much higher for people younger than 30.

Sovereign debt levels, meanwhile, have approached or exceeded 100% of GDP (Italy’s is now at 135%), while both inflation and real growth – and thus nominal growth – remain low. This lingering debt overhang is limiting the ability to use fiscal measures to help restore robust growth.

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

Is The Renewable Transition Harming The U.S. Economy?

Is The Renewable Transition Harming The U.S. Economy?

solar panels

Recent data from the 2017 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook suggests that sectors of America’s energy market are quickly shifting towards greener energy, while also dispelling the myth that such shifts will hurt the economy. Despite a GDP growth of 12 percent since 2007, America’s usage of energy has fallen by 3.6 percent. Analysts believe this to be indicative of a new stage of American history in which energy productivity is improving, while increasingly less energy is needed to sustain growth.

These movements are overlapped by dramatic decreases in greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, 2016 marked a 25-year low – emissions have dropped 12 percent since 2007. As part of the original Paris Agreement, the U.S. has pledged to reduce national greenhouse gasses by over 25 percent by 2025 – these new numbers mean we are nearly halfway there.

These numbers are supplemented by the fact that consumers spent less than 4 percent of their annual household income on energy. This is the smallest estimate ever collected in America. Further, retail rates for electricity have fallen nationally by 3 percent. But in some regions, Texas for example, retail prices have fallen by as much as 29 percent. Moreover, since its peak in 2014, demand for electricity has fallen 1.2 percent. During the same period of time, GDP has grown 4.2 percent.

These numbers seem to contradict the widely-held belief that if America shifts away from carbon-based energy, we will either face economic deceleration, or radical price increases.

Further details concerning 2016 show that renewable energy sources have also spiked. Last year, the U.S. created 22 gigawatts of new renewable-energy-generating capacity. 12.5 of these gigawatts were generated from the solar industry. The wind industry contributed 8.5 gigawatts, and the remainder was comprised of additions from hydropower, biomass, biogas and waste-to-energy.

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

How Do We Design a DeGrowth Economy?

How Do We Design a DeGrowth Economy?

The conventional objections to DeGrowth boil down to: it isn’t the status quo, so it can’t work. Actually, it’s the status quo that isn’t working.
I’ve written about DeGrowth for many years, including Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption (May 9, 2013), Degrowth Solutions: Half-Farmer, Half-X (July 19, 2014) and And the Next Big Thing Is … Degrowth? (April 7, 2014)
These are the basic concepts of Degrowth:
1. Consumerism is psychological/ spiritual junk food (French: malbouffe) that actively reduces well-being (bien-etre) rather than increases it.
2. Better rather than more: well-being is increased by everything that cannot be commoditized by a market economy or financialized by a cartel-state financial machine– friendship, family, community, self-cultivation. The goal of economic and social growth should be better, not more. On a national scale, the cancerous-growth measured by gross domestic product (GDP) should be replaced with gross domestic happiness/ gross national happiness (GNH).
3. A recognition that resources are not infinite, despite claims to the contrary. For one example of many: China Is Plundering the Planet’s Seas (The Atlantic). Indeed, all the evidence suggests that access to cheap energy only speeds up the depletion and despoliation of every other resource.
4. The unsustainability of consumerist “growth” that’s dependent on resource depletion funded by financialization (i.e. the endless expansion of credit and phantom collateral). (This is covered in greater depth in my short book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.)
5. The diminishing returns on private consumption and “bridges to nowhere” (crony-capitalist public consumption).
6. The failure of neoliberal capitalism and communism alike in their pursuit of growth at any cost.
Degrowth is heresy in what John Michael Greer calls the religion of progress (i.e. growth). The faith that growth equals progress is akin to the Cargo Cult of Keynesianism, the notion that expanding debt exponentially to drive diminishing returns of growth is not only necessary but a moral imperative.

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

Conference Board sees modest economic growth in 2017

Conference Board sees modest economic growth in 2017

Alberta expected to lead all provinces in economic growth this year

Retail sales activity is expected to cool this year and next, the Conference Board of Canada says.

Retail sales activity is expected to cool this year and next, the Conference Board of Canada says. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The national economy should see a slight pick-up this year, the Conference Board of Canada said in a new report out Thursday.

The independent research group said it sees overall growth of 1.9 per cent this year, up from the 1.3 per cent it expects will be reported for last year.

“The plunge in energy investment is expected to slow and we should finally see a resurgence in non-energy investment,” the Conference Board said.

“Canadian exports are also expected to fare a little better as the U.S. economy picks up speed and the Canadian dollar remains weak,” the group said, but added that exports levels will still remain low by historical standards.

Federal stimulus spending is expected to give a boost to national economic growth, although provincial belt-tightening is forecast to offset some of that.

Looking ahead to 2018, “dismal” business investment levels and slowing labour force growth mean it is unlikely there will be any acceleration in GDP growth, they said.

Retail sector seen cooling

The group said that consumer spending has been a “bright spot” in the economy, seeing increases in recent years despite weak job growth in some provinces and  soft wage gain.

“However, the ability to sustain these increases will be limited by the run-up in household debt over the last several years,” they said.

The Conference Board sees retail sales growth cooling from 3.8 per cent in 2016 to 2.9 per cent this year and down to 1.9 per cent in 2018.

The soft economic growth expected for this year and next mean the Bank of Canada is expected to hold off boosting interest rates until 2018.

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

Alan Greenspan: Ron Paul Was Right About The Gold Standard

Alan Greenspan: Ron Paul Was Right About The Gold Standard

As John Rubino eloquently puts it, “when the history of these times is written, former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan will be one of the major villains, but also one of the greatest mysteries. This is so because he has, in effect, been three different people.” Greenspan started his public life brilliantly, as a libertarian thinker who said some compelling and accurate things about gold and its role in the world. An example from 1966: “This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists’ tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists’ antagonism toward the gold standard.”

Yet everything changed a few decades later when Greenspan was put in charge of the Federal Reserve in the late 1980s, instead of applying the above wisdom, for example by limiting the bank’s interference in the private sector and letting market forces determine winners and losers, he did a full 180, intervening in every crisis, creating new currency with abandon, and generally behaving like his old ideological enemies, the Keynesians. Predictably, debt soared during his long tenure.

Along the way he was also instrumental in preventing regulation of credit default swaps and other derivatives that nearly blew up the system in 2008. His view of those instruments:

The reason that growth has continued despite adversity, or perhaps because of it, is that these new financial instruments are an increasingly important vehicle for unbundling risks.

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

Which Assets Are Most Likely to Survive the Inevitable “System Re-Set”?

Which Assets Are Most Likely to Survive the Inevitable “System Re-Set”? 

Your skills, knowledge and social capital will emerge unscathed on the other side of the re-set wormhole. Your financial assets held in centrally controlled institutions will not.

Longtime correspondent C.A. recently asked a question every American household should be asking: which assets are most likely to survive the “system re-set” that is now inevitable? It’s a question of great import because not all assets are equal in terms of survivability in crisis, when the rules change without advance notice.

If you doubt the inevitability of a system implosion/re-set, please read Is America In A Bubble (And Can It Ever Return To “Normal”)? This brief essay presents charts that reveal a sobering economic reality: America is now dependent on multiple asset bubbles never popping–something history suggests is not possible.

It isn’t just a financial re-set that’s inevitable–it’s a political and social re-set as well. For more on why this is so, please consult my short book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.

The charts below describe the key dynamics driving a system re-set. Earned income (wages) as a share of GDP has been falling for decades: this means labor is receiving a diminishing share of economic growth. Since costs and debt continue rising while incomes are declining or stagnating, this asymmetry eventually leads to insolvency.

The “fix” for insolvency has been higher debt and debt-based spending–in essence, borrowing from future income to fund more consumption today. But each unit of new debt is generating less economic activity/growth. This is called diminishing returns: eventually the costs of servicing the additional debt exceed the increasingly trivial gains.

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

These are the Countries with the Biggest Debt Slaves, and Americans Are Only in 10th place

These are the Countries with the Biggest Debt Slaves, and Americans Are Only in 10th place

So who the heck are the Really Great Ones?

Americans have been on a borrowing binge. To buy their favorite cars and trucks, they’ve loaded up on $1.14 trillion in auto loans. Young and not so young Americans are mortgaging their future with student loans that now amount to $1.28 trillion. Credit card and other debts are at $1.12 trillion. And mortgage debt stands at $8.82 trillion.

So, total household debt was $12.35 trillion, according to the New York Fed’s Household Debt and Credit Report for the third quarter 2016. That’s a massive amount of debt. Many consumers are struggling with it. Student loans are seeing enormous default rates, and repayment rates are far worse than previously disclosed. And “debt slaves” has become a term in the financial vernacular.

But it isn’t nearly enough debt…

Neither for the New York Fed whose President William Dudley, in a speech a few days ago, practically exhorted households to borrow more against the equity in their homes so that they blow this cash and drive up retail sales: “Whatever the timing, a return to a reasonable pattern of home equity extraction would be a positive development for retailers, and would provide a boost to aggregate growth,” he mused, with nostalgic thoughts of 2008.

Nor for the global rankings of debt slaves, where US households squeaked into the ignominious 10th place, barely ahead of Portugal! I mean, come on! Portugal!!

There are many ways to measure household indebtedness and debt burdens. Comparing total household debt to the overall size of the economy as measured by GDP is one of the measures. And per this household-debt-to-GDP measure, the Americans are 10th place with 78.8%  and look practically prudent compared to the peak just before the Financial Crisis (via Trading Economics):

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What has gone wrong with oil prices, debt, and GDP growth?

What has gone wrong with oil prices, debt, and GDP growth?

(1) The big thing that pulls the economy forward is the time-shifting nature of debt and debt-like instruments.

If we want any kind of specialization, we need some sort of long-term obligation that will make that specialization worthwhile. If one hunter-gatherer specializes in finding flints that will start fires, that hunter-gatherer needs some sort of guarantee that others, who are finding food, will share some of their food with him, so that the group, as a whole, can prosper. Others, who specialize in gathering firewood, or in childcare, also need some kind of guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded.

At first, these obligations were enforced by social norms such as, “If you don’t follow the rules of the group, we will throw you out.” Gradually, reciprocal obligations became more formalized, and included more time shifting, “If you will work for me, I will pay you at the end of the month.” Or, “If you will pay my transportation costs to a land of more opportunity, I will repay you with 10% of my wages for the first five years.” Or, “I will sell you this piece of land, if you will pay me x amount per month for y years.”

In some cases, the loan (or loan-like agreements) takes the form of stock ownership of an enterprise. In this case, the promise is for future dividends, and the possibility of growth in the value of the stock, in return for the use of funds. Even though we generally refer to one type of loan-like agreement as “equity ownership” and the other as “debt,” they have a great deal of similarity. Funds are being provided to the enterprise, with the expectation of greater return in the future.

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President-elect Trump stated in his victory speech that he intends to make America great again by infrastructure spending.

President-elect Trump stated in his victory speech that he intends to make America great again by infrastructure spending.

Unfortunately, he is unlikely to have the room for manoeuvre to achieve this ambition as well as his intended tax cuts, because the Government’s finances are already in a perilous state.

It is also becoming increasingly likely that the next fiscal year will be characterised by growing price inflation and belated increases in interest rates, against a background of rising raw material prices. That being the case, public finances are not only already fragile, but they are likely to become more so from now on, without any extra spending on infrastructure or fiscal stimulus. So far, most informed commentaries on the prospects for inflation have concentrated on the negative effects of an expansionary monetary policy on the private sector. With the pending appointment of a new President with ideas of his own, this article turns our attention to the effects on government finances.

Government outlays are already set to increase, due to price inflation, more than the GDP deflator would suggest. The deflator is always a dumbed-down estimate of price inflation. At the same time, tax receipts will tend to lag behind any uplift from price inflation. Furthermore, the wealth-transfer effect of monetary inflation over a prolonged period reduces the ability of the non-financial private sector to pay the taxes necessary to compensate for the lower purchasing power of an inflating currency.

Trump is a businessman. Such people often think that running a country’s economy is merely a scaled-up business project. Not so. Countries can be regarded as not-for-profit organisations, and democratic ones are driven by the consensus of diverse vested interests. The only sustainable approach is to stand back and give individuals the freedom to run their own affairs, and to discretely discourage the business of lobbying.

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Global Debt Investors: The Silence of the Lambs

Global Debt Investors: The Silence of the Lambs

More haunting even than the terrified screams of lambs being led was the silence that followed their slaughter.

Such was the searing pain of relentless recollection for FBI agent Clarice Starling, the tortured lead played to Oscar perfection by Jodie Foster. In an agonizingly whispered scene that has forever left its imprint on the minds of horrified audiences, we hear the bleating of Starling’s long-dead tormentors.

Clarice’s hushed revelations to Hannibal reveal a desperate act by her young orphaned self. Unable to bear the horror, she’s running away from the bloodbath of spring lambs being slaughtered and her cousin’s sheep ranch. Desperate to do something, anything, she struggles to drive them from their pens to freedom: “I tried to free them…I opened the gate of their pen – but they wouldn’t run. They just stood there confused. They wouldn’t run…”

A recent, reluctant re-viewing of the film, only the third in history to win the “Big Five” Oscars, Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay, fed fresh food for thought. The image of captives rejecting their freedom brought to mind another flock of corralled and stunned lambs — bond market investors. They too have been given the opportunity to escape their fate. But so many choose instead to stay. Such is the reality of a world devoid of options, with time ticking ruthlessly by.

Against the cynical backdrop of bulls and bears manipulating data to plead their case, Salient Partners’ Ben Hunt’s insights stand out for their indisputability. In his latest missive he points to one chart that’s incapable of being “fudged,” to borrow his term – that of U.S. household net worth over time vis-à-vis U.S. nominal gross domestic product. Suffice it to say we’re farther off trend than we were even during the dotcom and housing manias.

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

The Floodgates Begin To Open

The Floodgates Begin To Open

Now “anemic” is becoming “non-existent.” In the US, mini-credit-bubbles like auto loans, home mortgages and student loans are sputtering, leading economists to dial back their rosy scenarios for 2016. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast for Q3 growth, for instance, was a robust 3.8% in August but is now less than 2% — and still falling.

gdp-now-oct-16

Not surprisingly, everyone is starting to panic. In the UK, where admittedly Brexit has created a unique situation:

Mark Carney: Bank of England will tolerate higher inflation for the sake of growth

(Telegraph) – Official data on Friday showed house building, infrastructure and public construction all slumped in August, indicating that the UK’s building industry is slowing sharply and could even enter a recession. Construction output dropped by 1.5pc in the month, an unexpected drop after growth of 0.6pc in July, according to the Office for National Statistics. Separate Bank of England figures showed banks suffered a big drop in demand in the months following the Brexit vote as fewer Britons were prepared to take major financial decisions. Demand for mortgages dipped strongly, with a net balance of 44pc of banks reporting a fall in customer interest – the biggest negative score in almost two years.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney told an audience in Nottingham that the current environment of low inflation was “going to change”, with the drop in the value of the pound likely to push up prices across the economy.

…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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