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The Bank of England and the Manipulation of Sterling

The Bank of England and the Manipulation of Sterling

In a recent article where I discussed the Bank of England being at the heart of the Brexit process, I mentioned how the fall in the value of sterling following the 2016 referendum was pigeonholed by the bank as being the sole cause for inflation breaching their 2% target.

After the article was re-posted by Zero Hedge, a reader commented on something I did not make specific mention of, which was that six weeks after the referendum the BOE halved interest rates to 0.25%, prompting the pound to drop further in value. The reader pointed out that cutting interest rates usually results in currencies depreciating, and that the bank’s actions were the cause of a subsequent rise in inflation and not Brexit itself. Essentially, the premise here is that the BOE were responsible for devaluing the pound and creating the conditions to eventually raise interest rates a year later.

A similar comment from another reader in October last year spoke of how the BOE extending quantitative easing by £60 billion, as well as lowering rates, were ‘two sure fire things to lower the value of the pound.’

Whilst I have touched upon this in previous articles, it is a subject that deserves more attention and fresh context.

Let’s start by first going back to December 2007 when the Bank of England cut interest rates from 5.75% to 5.5%. At the time sterling was valued at $1.96. Two more rate cuts followed in February and April 2008, taking rates down to 5%. The pound remained stable around $1.97. So far the bank lowering rates had not prompted a fall in sterling.

Five months later Lehman Brothers collapsed, and so began a violent downward trend in interest rates. The next cut came in October, down to 4.5%. The chaos within financial markets had fed through to sterling – the $1.97 from five months ago was now $1.72.

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

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…

Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond

Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond

Photo Source wongaboo | CC BY 2.0

One of the key characteristics of the 2008-09 crash and its aftermath (i.e. chronic slow recovery in US and double and triple dip recessions in Europe and Japan) was a significant deflation in prices of global oil. After attaining well over $100 a barrel in 2007-08, crude oil prices plummeted, hitting a low of only $27 a barrel in January 2016. They slowly but steadily rose again in 2016-17 and peaked at about $80 a barrel this past summer 2018. Now the retreat has started once again, falling to a low of $55 in October and remain around $56 today, likely to fall further in 2019 now that Japan and Europe appear entering yet another recession and US growth almost certainly slowing significantly in 2019. With the potential for a US recession rising in late 2019 oil price deflation may continue into the near future. What will this mean for the global and US economies?

The critical question is what is the relationship between global oil price deflation, financial instability and crises, and recession–something mainstream economists don’t understand very well? Is the current rapid retreat of oil prices since August 2018 an indicator of more fundamental forces underway in the global and US economy? Will oil price deflation exacerbate, or even accelerate, the drift toward recession globally now underway? What about financial asset markets stability in general? What can be learned from the 2008 through 2015 experience?

In my 2016 book, ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’ and its chapter on deflation’s role in crises, I explained that oil is not just a commodity but, since the 1990s, has functioned as an important financial asset whose price affects other forms of financial assets (stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies, etc.).

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

The Primacy Of Income

The Primacy Of Income

The Era Of Gains is over

Ever since the central banks became serial bubble blowers twenty years ago, household wealth has mostly been driven by asset price inflation:

But this has been a quixotic pursuit. Created by pulling tomorrow’s prosperity into today, these asset price bubbles are unsustainable, and invariably suffer violent corrections at their end.

So far, the central banks have responded to these corrections by simply doing more of the same, just at greater and greater intensity. To keep the current Everything Bubble going, the world’s central banks have not only had to more than quintuple their collective balance sheets, but have recently had to resort to the extreme (desperate?) measure of injecting the greatest amount of liquidity ever in 2016 and 2017.

History has shown us that the height an asset bubble reaches is proportional to the damage it wreaks when it bursts. Applying this logic, the coming pop of the Everything Bubble will be devastating.

So devastating that analysts like John Hussman forecast a 0% (or worse) total market return over the next twelve years:

Moreover, the primary driver and supporter of asset price appreciation over the past seven years, central bank easing, is now gone. For the first time since the GFC, the collective central bank liquidity injection rate (the solid black line in the below chart) is now net zero.

And plans to tighten much further from here have been clearly committed and communicated to the world:

As a consequence, we fully expect yesterday’s capital gains to become tomorrow’s capital losses.  What goes up on thin-air money comes down with its removal.

And while this is going on, interest rates are suddenly exploding higher around the world after spending a decade at all-time historic lows:

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

Inflation Surges In October; Media Blames Gas Prices

Inflation Surges In October; Media Blames Gas Prices

A key measurement of inflation, The Consumer Price Index, rose 2.5% in October from a year earlier.  The inflation was linked to rising gas prices by the media, but there’s more to it than just the cost of fuel. Rising inflation is actually also likely tied to the deficit, rising interest rates, and the national debt.

According to a report by Market Watch, Americans paid more in October for gas, rent and used vehicles, triggering the biggest increase in consumer inflation in nine months. There was an increase in the cost of living over the past 12 months as well.  That jumped to 2.5% from 2.3%. The rate of inflation is still below a six-year high of 2.9% set three months ago, however.

Even though the price of gasoline played a role on the rising inflation, the cost of rent, used cars and trucks, medical care, home furnishings, and car insurance also increased and all of these are major household expenses. The worst news, perhaps, is that after adjusting for inflation, hourly wages slipped 0.1% in October. Wages are up a mild 0.7% in the past year, according to CNBC.

This rise in inflation will likely keep the Federal Reserve on their current path of increasing interest rates as well.  The United States’ central bank left interest rates unchanged last Thursday, but it is still expected to increase borrowing costs in December for a fourth time this year. In its statement after last week’s policy meeting, the Fed noted that annual inflation measures “remain near 2 percent.”

Even though most prices rose, prices for new motor vehicles dropped 0.2 percent last month and communications costs fell too. Prices for recreation and personal care products also decreased slightly. However, the minuscule decrease in vehicle prices won’t last long as the trade war with China is still in effect.

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

Real Canadian Mortgage Credit Growth Is Pointing To An Early 80s Style Meltdown

Real Canadian Mortgage Credit Growth Is Pointing To An Early 80s Style Meltdown

Canadian mortgage credit growth is falling, but how bad is it in real terms? People are comparing today’s low growth numbers to the mid-1990s. While there are some parallels, it more accurately resembles the early 1980s. Mortgage credit growth, when adjusted for inflation, is heading towards negative numbers. We haven’t actually experienced negative real growth in over 30 years.

Why Real Mortgage Credit Is Important

In order to more accurately observe trends, analysts will sometimes inflation adjust dollar amounts. Inflation is the decrease in power of money, caused by rising or falling prices in goods. Inflation tends to obfuscate the true trend over long periods of time. Did the currency go to s**t, or did we see a behavioral change? Was it low growth, or negative growth? To get a better picture, it’s sometimes (almost always) useful to adjust for inflation. When numbers are adjusted for inflation, they’re called real numbers.

Looking at real numbers allows us to observe the trend, without the distortion of currency value at the time. This is particularly important when looking at the early 1980s for Canada. During that period, inflation was totally out of control. Today we often think of that period as low growth, with a brief negative contraction. In actuality, it was a very large contraction in real terms.

Okay, no one thinks about the early 1980s rate of credit growth, but some of you should!

Canadian Mortgage Credit Growth Is Over 3%

Canadian mortgage credit growth is pretty weak when looking at unadjusted numbers. The annual pace of growth fell to 3.38% in September, down 38.76% from last year. This is the lowest pace since June 2001, and on target to head lower according to recent performance. It’s low growth, but at least it’s not negative is what most are thinking.

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

Oil Slumps Below $60 To 8-Month Lows – Set For Record Losing Streak

Oil Slumps Below $60 To 8-Month Lows – Set For Record Losing Streak

WTI Crude is trading back below $60 for the first time since March (and Brent below $70) as Washington’s decision to allow eight countries to continue importing from Iran, which it slapped with sanctions earlier this week; as well as pledges by Saudi Arabia and other producers to pump more (as well as surges in American supply and stockpiles), have turned fears of a supply crunch into talk of an oversupply.

This is the 10th down-day in a row…

Which if it holds, will be the longest losing streak in the history of the oil contract…

“The focus is on negative sentiment in oil and negative momentum,” said Giovanni Staunovo, a commodity analyst at UBS Group AG.

“It’ll be interesting to see if some stick with their shorts over the weekend with the OPEC meeting.”

Is it time for Energy stocks to catch down to reality?

And are inflation breakevens about to tumble?

On the bright side, is the American average joe about to get a ‘tax cut’ as his pump-price for gas is set to plummet…

Venezuela’s Glaring Gasoline Crisis

Venezuela’s Glaring Gasoline Crisis

gas pump

Iran has dominated the headlines over the last few weeks, but Venezuela’s oil sector continues to meltdown.

Venezuela’s oil production fell to just 1.197 million barrels per day in September, down 42,000 bpd from a month earlier. However, because things are moving so quickly, that figure is now woefully out of date. With a few weeks left in 2018, many analysts believe production could fall below 1 mb/d.

Venezuela’s oil exports to the United States declined by 19 percent in October, compared to a month earlier. The decline came as a result of maintenance from the country’s upgraders, which turn heavy oil from the Orinoco Belt into exportable forms of oil. Without the ability to process, exports plunged.

But Venezuela is replete with operational and financial problems that are also contributing to the sharp decline in output and exports. Another issue has been the damaged port of Jose, the main conduit for oil exports. A tanker collision in August disrupted shipments from the port for weeks, and it remains only partly operational.

Nobody is hurting more than the Venezuelan people. At least 2.3 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015, according to a new estimate from the United Nations. The country’s inflation rate topped 833,997 percent in October, according to a report from Venezuela’s opposition-controlled Congress. The number is so astronomical that it is virtually meaningless, just as the currency itself is completely worthless.

Fuel shortages are growing worse. State-owned PDVSA has seen its refineries run into the ground, and many are not operational or operating at very low levels. On paper, the refineries can process about 1.3 million barrels per day, but in reality, many have ceased operations due to a combination of factors, including a breakdown in parts, a lack of oil supply to work with, and no financial resources. According to Bloomberg, refinery utilization is down to around 17 percent, down from 50 percent as recently as 2016.

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

Here are all the ways inflation is happening today

Here are all the ways inflation is happening today

Something strange happened in the markets last month that signals trouble ahead…

When stocks fell from their September highs, you would have expected investors to run for cover in the world’s safe-haven asset – US Treasurys.

But that’s not what happened.

While stocks were plunging, Treasurys also fell. Yields on 30-year Treasurys increased to 3.4% from 3.22% (and yields have already more than doubled from their 2016 lows).

It’s a sign that the market is worried about the US government’s ability to pay its exploding debts and that inflation is creeping back into the market. That makes me a bit nervous because we haven’t seen inflation in a decade.

We’ve seen an increase in oil prices, food prices, rent and many other things that eat into people’s savings. Unemployment is low and US wages increased 3.1% in September (the highest in nine years). And core inflation is already running above the Fed’s target of 2%.

In general, inflation is nothing to panic about. The Fed is supposed to raise rates when inflation heats up, which it’s been doing.

But as rates have moved higher, we’ve already seen stocks and real estate fall.

The entire financial system has been dependent on super low rates for the past ten years. The Fed held rates at zero for a decade and printed trillions of dollars.

The increase in prices and interest rates to date is only the beginning.

Just take a look at what’s happening in the economy right now…

Food companies like Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Hershey and Kellogg are all raising prices as both ingredient and transportation costs increase. Kellogg’s CEO recently said in an interview, “We think 2019 will be more inflationary than we have seen historically since the recession.”

McDonald’s and Chili’s both raised prices.

Airlines are paying 40% more for jet fuel than they were a year ago.

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

Mike Maloney: “One Hell Of A Crisis”

Mike Maloney: “One Hell Of A Crisis”

Crashing stocks, bonds, real estate & currency all at once?

Mike Maloney, monetary historian and founder of GoldSilver.com, has just released two new chapters of his excellent Hidden Secrets Of Money video series.

In producing the series, Maloney has reviewed several thousand years of monetary history and has observed that government intervention and mismanagement — such as is now rampant across the world — has alwaysresulted in the diminishment and eventual failure of currency systems.

As for the world’s current fiat currency regimes, Mike sees a reckoning approaching. One that will be preceded by massive losses rippling across nearly all asset classes, destroying the phantom wealth created during the latest central bank-induced Everything Bubble, and grinding the global economy to a halt:

Gold and silver are tremendously undervalued right now, and I dare you to try to find another asset that is tremendously undervalued. There just is not. By all measures, everything is just in these hyper-bubbles. OK, real estate is not quite a hyper-bubble; it’s not quite as big as 2005 and 2006, but by all measures, it’s back into a bubble. But now, we’ve got the bond bubble, the biggest debt bubble in the world. These are all going to pop.

We had a stock market crash in the year 2000, and then in 2008, we had a crash in stocks and real estate. The next crash is going to be in stocks, real estate and bonds — including a lot of sovereign debt, corporate bonds and a whole lot of other bonds that will be crashing at the same time. So, it will be all of the standard financial asset classes, including the traditional ‘safe haven’ of bonds that are going to be crashing at the same time that the world monetary system is falling apart.

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

According to the Wall Street Journal, Inflation Is About to Increase the Prices of EVERYTHING

According to the Wall Street Journal, Inflation Is About to Increase the Prices of EVERYTHING

We’ve been pretty lucky over the last ten years in terms of inflation, which has remained at about 2%. However, if the Wall Street Journal is correct, our luck is about to run out.

The price of just about everything is set to increase in the coming months. Part of this is because manufacturers and suppliers are facing rising costs, just like the rest of us.

Airlines are paying about 40% more for jet fuel than they were a year ago. Trucking costs were up 7% annually in September, as trucking companies passed along their own higher labor costs. Private-sector wages and salaries in the September-ended quarter rose 3.1% from a year earlier, the strongest gain since 2008, the Labor Department said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, U.S. manufacturers are paying roughly 8% more for aluminum and 38% more for steel than a year ago as the industry adjusts to tariffs the Trump administration levied on imports of those metals. Also, a 10% tariff the administration imposed in September on $200 billion worth of various goods from China is weighing on businesses that buy those imports. (source)

With that being the case, it isn’t surprising that those costs will be passed on to consumers.

What is inflation?

Here are some basic facts about inflation from Investopedia.

  • Inflation is a sustained increase in the general level of prices for goods and services.
  • When inflation goes up, there is a decline in the value, or purchasing power of money.
  • Variations on inflation include disinflationdeflationhyperinflation and stagflation.
  • Theories as to the cause of inflation are up for debate. Some common theories include demand-pull inflationcost-push inflation, and monetary inflation.
  • When there is unanticipated inflation, creditors lose, people on a fixed-income lose, menu costs go up, uncertainty reduces spending and exporters aren’t as competitive.

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

The Fed’s Mandate To Pick Your Pocket – The Real Price Of Inflation

The Fed’s Mandate To Pick Your Pocket – The Real Price Of Inflation

Inflation is everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon.” – Milton Friedman

This oft-cited quote from the renowned American economist Milton Friedman suggests something important about inflation. What he implies is that inflation is a function of money, but what exactly does that mean?

To better appreciate this thought, let’s use a simple example of three people stranded on a deserted island. One person has two bottles of water, and she is willing to sell one of the bottles to the highest bidder. Of the two desperate bidders, one finds a lonely one-dollar bill in his pocket and is the highest bidder. But just before the transaction is completed, the other person finds a twenty-dollar bill buried in his backpack. Suddenly, the bottle of water that was about to sell for one-dollar now sells for twenty dollars. Nothing about the bottle of water changed. What changed was the money available among the people on the island.

As we discussed in What Turkey Can Teach Us About Gold, most people think inflation is caused by rising prices, but rising prices are only a symptom of inflation. As the deserted island example illustrates, inflation is caused by too much money sloshing around the economy in relation to goods and services. What we experience is goods and services going up in price, but inflation is actually the value of our money going down.

Historical Price Levels

The chart below is a graph of price levels in the United States since 1774. In anticipation of a reader questioning the comparison of the prices and types of goods and services available in 1774 with 2018, the data behind this chart compares the basics of life. People ate food, needed housing, and required transportation in 1774 just as they do today. While not perfect, this chart offers a reasonable comparison of the relative cost of living from one period to the next.

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

Not Waving But Drowning–Stocks, Debt and Inflation?

  • The US stock market is close to being in a corrective phase -10% off its highs
  • Global debt has passed $63trln – well above the levels on 2007
  • Interest rates are still historically low, especially given the point in the economic cycle
  • Predictions of a bear-market may be premature, but the headwinds are building

The recent decline in the US stock market, after the longest bull-market in history, has prompted many commentators to focus on the negative factors which could sow the seeds of the next recession. Among the main concerns is the inexorable rise in debt since the great financial recession (GFR) of 2008. According to May 2018 data from the IMF, global debt now stands at $63trln, with emerging economy debt expansion, over the last decade, more than offsetting the marking time among developed nations. The IMF – Global Debt Database: Methodology and Sources WP/18/111 – looks at the topic in more detail.

The title of this week’s Macro letter comes from the poet Stevie Smith: –

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

It seems an appropriate metaphor for valuation and leverage in asset markets. In 2013 Thomas Pickety published ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ in which he observed that income inequality was rising due to the higher return on unearned income relative to labour. He and his co-authors gathering together one of the longest historical data-set on interest rates and wages – an incredible achievement. Their conclusion was that the average return on capital had been roughly 5% over the very long run.

This is not the place to argue about the pros and cons of Pickety’s conclusions, suffice to say that, during the last 50 years, inflation indices have tended to understate what most of us regard as our own personal inflation rate, whilst the yield offered by government bonds has been insufficient to match the increase in our cost of living.

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

The Coming Inflation Threat

The Coming Inflation Threat

Falling asset inflation plus rising cost inflation equals stagflation.

Inflation is a funny thing: we feel it virtually every day, but we’re told it doesn’t exist—the official inflation rate is around 2.5% over the past few years, a little higher when energy prices are going up and a little lower when energy prices are going down.

Historically, 2.5% is about as low as inflation gets in a mass-consumption economy like the U.S. that depends on the constant expansion of credit.

But even 2.5% annually can add up if wages are stagnant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), what cost $1 in January 2009 now costs $1.19. https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

That 19% decline in the purchasing power of dollars is tolerable as long as wages go up by 20% over the same period, but for many American households, wages haven’t kept pace with official inflation.

While the nominal hourly wages keep rising, adjusted for inflation, wages have stagnated for decades.  Here’s a chart based on BLS data that shows median weekly earnings adjusted for official inflation rose $6 a week after five years of decline:

But stagnant wages are only part of the inflation picture: official inflation under-represents real-world inflation on several counts.

First, the weightings of the components in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) are suspect.  Many commentators have explored this issue, but the main point is the severe underweighting of expenses such as healthcare, which is only 8.67% of the CPI but over 18% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Second, the “big ticket” components—rent/housing, healthcare and higher education—are under-reported for those who have to pay the unsubsidized cost.  The CPI reflects minor cost decreases in tradable commodity goods such as TVs and clothing that are small parts of the family budget, while minimizing enormous expenses such as college tuition and healthcare that can cost $20,000 annually or more.

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

The Coming Inflation Threat: The Worst Of Both Worlds

Sandusky Register

The Coming Inflation Threat: The Worst Of Both Worlds

Expect falling asset inflation, but rising cost inflation
Inflation is a funny thing: we feel it virtually every day, but we’re told it doesn’t exist—the official inflation rate is around 2.5% over the past few years, a little higher when energy prices are going up and a little lower when energy prices are going down.

Historically, 2.5% is about as low as inflation gets in a mass-consumption economy like the U.S. that depends on the constant expansion of credit.

But even 2.5% annually can add up if wages are stagnant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), what cost $1 in January 2009 now costs $1.19. https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

That 19% decline in the purchasing power of dollars is tolerable as long as wages go up by 20% over the same period, but for many American households, wages haven’t kept pace with official inflation.

While the nominal hourly wages keep rising, adjusted for inflation, wages have stagnated for decades.  Here’s a chart based on BLS data that shows median weekly earnings adjusted for official inflation rose $6 a week after five years of decline:

But stagnant wages are only part of the inflation picture: official inflation under-represents real-world inflation on several counts.

First, the weightings of the components in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) are suspect.  Many commentators have explored this issue, but the main point is the severe underweighting of expenses such as healthcare, which is only 8.67% of the CPI but over 18% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Second, the “big ticket” components—rent/housing, healthcare and higher education—are under-reported for those who have to pay the unsubsidized cost.  The CPI reflects minor cost decreases in tradable commodity goods such as TVs and clothing that are small parts of the family budget, while minimizing enormous expenses such as college tuition and healthcare that can cost $20,000 annually or more.

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

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