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Living Dangerously

Regular readers of Goldmoney’s Insights should be aware by now that the cycle of business activity is fuelled by monetary policy, and that the periodic booms and slumps experienced since monetary policy has been used in an attempt to manage economic outcomes are the result of monetary policy itself. The link between interest rate suppression in the early stages of the credit cycle, the creation of malinvestments and the subsequent debt dénouement was summed up in Hayek’s illustration of a triangle, which I covered in an earlier article.[i]

Since Hayek’s time, monetary policy, particularly in America, has evolved away from targeting production and discouraging savings by suppressing interest rates, towards encouraging consumption through expanding consumer finance. American consumers are living beyond their means and have commonly depleted all their liquid savings. But given the variations in the cost of consumer finance (between 0% car loans and 20% credit card and overdraft rates), consumers are generally insensitive to changes in interest rates.

Therefore, despite the rise of consumer finance, we can still regard Hayek’s triangle as illustrating the driving force behind the credit cycle, and the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates as the reason monetary policy always leads to an economic crisis. The chart below shows we could be living dangerously close to another tipping point, whereby the rises in the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) might be about to trigger a new credit and economic crisis.

 

living danger 1

Previous peaks in the FFR coincided with the onset of economic downturns, because they exposed unsustainable business models. On the basis of simple extrapolation, the area between the two dotted lines, which roughly join these peaks, is where the current FFR cycle can be expected to peak. It is currently standing at about 2% after yesterday’s increase, and the Fed expects the FFR to average 3.1% in 2019.

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

America’s Greatest Crisis Upon Us…Debt to GDP Makes It Clear

America’s Greatest Crisis Upon Us…Debt to GDP Makes It Clear

America in the midst of its greatest crisis in its 242 years of existence.  I say this based upon the US federal debt to GDP (gross domestic product) ratio.  In the history of the US, at the onset of every war or crisis, a period of federal deficit spending ensued (red bars in graph below) to overcome the challenge but at the “challenges” end, a period of federal austerity ensued.  Until now.  No doubt the current financial crisis ended by 2013 (based on employment, asset values, etc.) but federal spending continues to significantly outpace tax revenues…resulting in a continually rising debt to GDP ratio.  We are well past the point where we have typically began repairing the nation’s balance sheet and maintaining the credibility of the currency.  However, all indications from the CBO and current administration make it clear that debt to GDP will continue to rise.  If the American economy were as strong as claimed, this is the time that federal deficit spending would cease alongside the Fed’s interest rate hikes.  Instead, surging deficit spending is taking place alongside interest rate hikes, another first for America.
The chart below takes America from 1790 to present.  From 1776 to 2001, every period of deficit spending was followed by a period of “austerity” where-upon federal spending was constrained and economic activity flourished, repairing the damage done to the debt to GDP ratio and the credibility of the US currency.  But since 2001, according to debt to GDP, the US has been in the longest ongoing crisis in the nations history.

But what is this crisis?  The chart points out the debt to GDP surges in order to resolve the Revolutionary war, the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. But the debt to GDP surges since 1980 seem less clear cut.  But simply put, America (and the world) grew up and matured, but the central banks and federal government could not accept this change.

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

Weekly Commentary: The Great Fallacy

Weekly Commentary: The Great Fallacy

A big week in the world of monetary management: The Federal Reserve raised rates 25 bps, the ECB announced plans to wind down its historic QE program, and the Bank of Japan clung to its “powerful monetary easing” inflationist scheme. A tense People’s Bank of China left rate policy unchanged, too weary to follow the Fed’s path.
The renminbi declined a notable 0.5% versus the dollar this week. More dramatic, the euro was hammered 1.9% on Draghi’s game plan. Also on Thursday’s dollar strength – and even more dramatic – the Argentine peso sank another 6.2% (down 34% y-t-d). The session saw the Brazilian real drop 2.2%, the Hungarian forint 2.6%, the Czech koruna 2.2%, the Polish zloty 2.0%, the Bulgarian lev 1.9%, the Romanian leu 1.9% and the Turkish lira 1.7%.

The FOMC, raising rates and adjusting “dot plots” higher, was viewed more on the hawkish side. The ECB, while announcing plans to conclude asset purchases by the end of the year, was compelled to add dovish guidance on rate policy (“…expects the key ECB interest rate to remain at present levels at least through the summer of 2019…”). Blindsided, the market dumped the euro. The Fed and ECB now operate on disparate playbooks, each focused on respective domestic issues. Anyone these days focused on faltering emerging market Bubbles, global contagion and the rising risk of market illiquidity?

June 13 – Financial Times (Sam Fleming): “Jay Powell put his personal stamp on the Federal Reserve on Wednesday, as the new chairman vowed to speak in plain English and hold more regular press conferences as he fosters ‘a public conversation’ about what the US central bank is up to. The Fed’s statement after the Federal Open Market Committee meeting, which detailed its decision to raise rates 0.25% and set a course for two more increases this year, also bore his imprint, as Mr Powell stripped away some of the economic verbiage that cluttered its communications in recent years. Mr Powell’s break from the approach of his predecessor… was more a stylistic one than a radical change of monetary policy strategy.”
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Do We Really Borrow From Only Ourselves? Does the Debt/GDP Ratio Means Anything?

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong, the famous economist Paul Krugman says that debt is ok when we owe it to ourselves. He calls it “deficit scolding” as he wrote in the New York Times. Would you like to comment on this statement?

GH

ANSWER: Paul Krugman seems to lack any historical understanding of how nations rise and fall. Anyone who claims debt is OK and can be infinite because “we” owe it to ourselves is clueless. He wrote in the article you referred to that “we have a more or less stable ratio of debt to GDP, and no hint of a financing problem.” The debt to GDP ratio is interesting but totally irrelevant. China’s debt to GDP stands at 250%, the USA at 103%, and Greece buckled at 186%. Obviously, this ratio is rather meaningless as a forecasting tool. I have published this chart on call money rates previously. In my studies, I quickly discovered that you cannot reduce the cause of any effect to a single issue. We can see that the peak in call money rates took place during 1899 and it was the lowest in 1929 when the Great Depression hit. You can’t even claim that if interest rates hit some magical level the stock market would crash. The world is far more complicated than just this one-dimensional approach to everything.

Capital flows were fleeing the USA in 1899 so interest rates went higher with a shortage of money. In 1929, the capital was in the USA for it rushed here because of World War I. The inflow of capital created an excess so the peak in call money rates was lower than 1899 when capital was fleeing. We even have the world of President Grover Cleveland from the Panic of 1893 commenting on the net capital outflow because of the “unsound” financial policy of the Silver Democrats.

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

NY Fed President Dudley Complains Unemployment is Too Low, Rate Hikes Needed

NY Fed President William Dudley is worried about the low unemployment rate. He thinks the Fed needs to be above neutral.

New York Fed President William Dudley will retire Monday. Current San Francisco Fed chief John Williams will take over.

“The federal funds rate will probably have to climb a little bit above neutral, because the unemployment rate is already — from most people’s vantage points — below a sustainable level of unemployment consistent with stable inflation,” Dudley told reporters Friday. “So, I think the move will be eventually to a slightly tight monetary policy.”

“I’m sort of expecting that the peak in the federal funds rate in this cycle will be lower than in past cycles, but I have quite a bit of uncertainty about that,” Dudley said during a conference call.

The unemployment rate is too low now, so we need to hike.

Last year he said consumers should “unlock” housing equity to boost the economy.

“The previous behavior of using housing debt to finance other kinds of consumption seems to have completely disappeared,” and people are leaving the wealth generated by rising home prices “locked up” in their homes.

“A return to a reasonable pattern of home equity extraction would be a positive development for retailers, and would provide a boost to economic growth.”

Dudley is a real gem. He will be missed for the comedy he provides.

Living Dangerously

Living Dangerously

Regular readers of Goldmoney’s Insights should be aware by now that the cycle of business activity is fuelled by monetary policy, and that the periodic booms and slumps experienced since monetary policy has been used in an attempt to manage economic outcomes are the result of monetary policy itself. The link between interest rate suppression in the early stages of the credit cycle, the creation of malinvestments and the subsequent debt dénouement was summed up in Hayek’s illustration of a triangle, which I covered in an earlier article.[i]

Since Hayek’s time, monetary policy, particularly in America, has evolved away from targeting production and discouraging savings by suppressing interest rates, towards encouraging consumption through expanding consumer finance. American consumers are living beyond their means and have commonly depleted all their liquid savings. But given the variations in the cost of consumer finance (between 0% car loans and 20% credit card and overdraft rates), consumers are generally insensitive to changes in interest rates.

Therefore, despite the rise of consumer finance, we can still regard Hayek’s triangle as illustrating the driving force behind the credit cycle, and the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates as the reason monetary policy always leads to an economic crisis. The chart below shows we could be living dangerously close to another tipping point, whereby the rises in the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) might be about to trigger a new credit and economic crisis.

living danger 1

Previous peaks in the FFR coincided with the onset of economic downturns, because they exposed unsustainable business models. On the basis of simple extrapolation, the area between the two dotted lines, which roughly join these peaks, is where the current FFR cycle can be expected to peak. It is currently standing at about 2% after yesterday’s increase, and the Fed expects the FFR to average 3.1% in 2019.

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

Free Money Calculation: Fed Will Give $36.93 Billion of Taxpayer Money to Banks

The Fed upped the interest it pays on excess reserves to 1.95% today. This is free money (taxpayer funded) to banks.

The Fed bumped up the interest it pays on excess reserves today to 1.95%. Currently, excess reserves sit at $1.894 trillion.

The math is simple enough. At the current rate, the Fed will hand over approximately $36.93 billion of taxpayer money to banks. That assumes the status quo, but things will change.

Factors

  1. The Fed is shrinking its balance sheet slowly. That reduces excess reserves the Fed pays interest rates on.
  2. When the Fed hikes interest rates, it also increases the interest it pays on excess reserves.

The first point acts to reduce free money, the second acts to increase free money.

Note to ECB

If you want to recapitalize Italian banks, just give them free money instead of your profit-reducing policy of holding rates negative.

Taxpayer money?

Yes! Otherwise the Fed would return this money to the US Treasury.

Some claim free money is paying banks to not lend. The claim is fallacious. Banks do not lend from excess reserves.

That was the amount I calculated on April 17, 2017. Interest then was 1.0%.

Even though the Fed’s balance sheet is lower, the increased rate bumped up the free money calculation to $36.93 billion.

No Outrage!

Why isn’t $36.93 billion in free money to banks an outrage?

Blain: Will The Fed Hike Unleash The “Swing” Moment When Suddenly Balance Is Lost?

Fed, Stratospheric dangers, US corporate leverage and the greater competition to manage funds.

“Of all extinct life-forms, dinosaurs are the most popular. Why that should be is not clear… ”

All eyes on the Fed today. They will hike by 25bp to 2% – the 6th hike in 7 quarters. Slow and gradual. This is something of a one-off in terms of the economic environment – unconventional being the word. Easy financial conditions in terms of growth, inflation, jobs and the ongoing fiscal spending and tax boosts. Plus, we’ve got the positive sentiment effects of strong equity and real estate markets – when folk feel rich they feel positive! Plus plus, with the rest of the world still on negative or zero interest rates, then money continues to pour into Treasuries making the ballooning deficit a SEPT (Someone Else’s Problem Tomorrow). Asset prices are inflated, but still weakness in consumer prices and wages. This remains an “interesting” space in terms of the potential policy pitfalls, and the “swing” moment – when suddenly balance is lost and the centre cannot hold…

Perhaps the writing is already on the wall? I was slightly concerned to read the National Federation of Independent Business (the US SME organisation) believes: “Main Street optimism is on a “stratospheric trajectory” thanks to recent tax cuts and regulatory changes”. Stratospheric is often confused with ballistic. Stratospheric could mean its’ going into orbit, or simply that a ballistic launch will reach the stratosphere. Sadly, ballistic means the kind of trajectory Kim Jong Un claims to no longer be interest in…`

(Last time someone was talking “stratospheric” it was in relation to Bitcoin, and that’s not ending well. Final comment on ballistic trajectories….I note a headline about Telsa slashing salaried staff.. )

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

The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis

The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis

The European Central bank has signaled the end of its asset purchase program and a possible rate hike before 2019. After more than 2 trillion euro of purchases and zero interest rate policy, it is overdue.

The massive quantitative easing program has generated very significant imbalances and the risks outweigh the questionable benefits.

The balance sheet of the ECB is now more than 40% of the Eurozone GDP.

The governments of the Eurozone, however, have not prepared themselves at all for the end of stimuli.

Rather the contrary.

The Eurozone states often claim that deficits have been reduced and risks contained. However, closer scrutiny shows that the bulk of deficit reductions came from lower cost of debt. Eurozone government spending has barely fallen, despite lower unemployment and rising tax revenues. Structural deficits remain stubborn, and in some cases, unchanged from 2013 levels.

The 19 eurozone countries have collectively saved 1.15 trillion euros in interest payments since 2008 due to ECB rate cuts and monetary policy interventions, according to Handelsblatt. A reduction in costs against the losses of pensioners and savers.

However, that illusion of savings and budget stability can rapidly disappear as most Eurozone countries face massive maturities in the 2018-2020 period and wasted precious years of quantitative easing without implementing strong structural reforms. Tax wedge rose for families and SMEs, while current spending by governments barely fell, competitiveness remained poor and a massive one trillion euro in non-performing loans raised doubts about the health of the European financial system.

 

The main eurozone economies face more than 2.1 trillion euro in maturities between 2018 and 2021. This, added to lower tax revenues due to the slowdown and rising spending from populist demands creates an enormous risk of a large debt crisis that no central bank will be able to contain. Absent of structural reforms, the eurozone faces a Japan-style stagnation or a debt crisis.

 

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

Supply v Demand-Side Economic & What is Never Discussed

COMMENT: Usury, first the Fed starves we savers for return for 18 years with their zero percent interest rates and gave us two giant stock market crashes in that intervening period.
The lack of return caused us to cannibalize our savings and trillions of savings lost thru the stock market crashes and ditto home equity. Then property taxes explode.
Now even the cost of funds is still at historic lows credit card rates move from 8/9% to 12% in a matter of months.

What are Grandma and Grandpa to do? Knowing what the Feds original charter was is not an answer because they have become the master manipulator for the wealth transfer from the people to their greedy cohorts.

Have followed your public work since well before your legal problems and greatly appreciate your cycle work but the wealth transfer must stop and some jail sentences applied and claw back enacted.

Or is the wealth transfer already accomplished and the taxpayer/consumer left holding the bag?
Martin, thank you for your efforts.

LL

REPLY: I fully agree. This is the battle between Demand v Supply-side Economics. This age of “New Economics” that was ushered in by Marx and Keynes, justified that government had the power to manipulate society to achieve their goals. The idea of raising and lowering interest rates to influence demand has utterly failed. The 800-pound gorilla in the room is the $200 trillion+ of sovereign debt around the world. Demand-Side Economics cannot possibly work when the biggest debtor is government and the raising of interest rates only increases their deficits that come back as tax increases reducing the net wealth of the people and lowering economic growth.

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

ECB & Bonds – People Believe What They Want to Believe

QUESTION: the ECB is arguing that given the low free float of EU bonds (especially German), bonds not owned by the ECB or other central banks, the impact of an end to APP purchases will be nowhere comparable to the tapering sell-off in the US in 2013. Bank research teams are hanging on to this idea to make positive forecasts in the EUR exchange rate versus the USD. They say an end-date for the APP programme may not result in a higher risk/term premium in the European government bond market.
Could you comment on this, please? Many thanks for all your work,
GM

ANSWER: The ECB knows it has to stop the QE program. They also know that Yellen was correct in lecturing them that interest rates had to be “normalized” so they know there is a real meltdown coming. That is inevitable. Pension funds cannot buy 10-year bonds at 1.5% or even 3% locking in losses for 10 years. I really fail to see that claiming there is such a small float, because the ECB has been the 800-pound gorilla buying everything, that interest rates will not rise. That is just complete fallacy. There is a small float because they have DESTROYED the bond market in Europe.

Draghi has proved something incredibly important – Demand-Side Economics has been a complete and utter failure. After 10 years of manipulating interest rates, that they want to put private bankers in prison for under the Libor Scandal, the ECB has failed completely. In just 7 days, the German bunds dropped from 16415 to 15939 – that was 5.9%. The 2013 decline in US 30-year Treasuries back in 2013 was 16%. So what the Bunds did in 7 days in their decline based upon events in Italy reflect that the ECB is trying to paint a picture that yes – rates will rise and bonds will decline.

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

All US Homes Are Overvalued


Dorothea Lange Children and home of cotton workers at migratory camp in southern San Joaquin Valley, CA 1936
 

My long time pal Jesse Colombo, now at Real Investment Advice, recently linked on Twitter to a Zero Hedge article, which quoted CoreLogic as saying more than half of American homes are overvalued. CoreLogic calls itself “a leading provider of consumer, financial and property data, analytics and services to business and government.”

Well, CoreLogic is way off. All American homes are overvalued. How can we tell? It’s easy. It’s so easy it’s perhaps no wonder that people overlook the reasons why. But we all know them: The Fed has pushed some $20 trillion down the throats of the financial system. It has also lowered interest rates to near zero Kelvin. Then the government added a “relaxation” of lending standards and an upward tweak of credit scores. And Bob’s your uncle.

These measures haven’t influenced just half of US homes, they’ve hit every single one of them. Some more than others, not every bubble is as big as San Francisco’s, but the suggestion that nearly half of homes are not overvalued is simply misleading. It falsely suggests that if you buy a home in the ‘right’ place, you’ll be fine. You won’t be. The Washington-induced bubble will and must pop, and precious few homes will be ‘worth’ what they are ‘worth’ today.

Here’s what Jesse tweeted along with his link to the Zero Hedge article:

“Almost half of the US housing market is overvalued” – this is why U.S. household wealth is also overvalued/in an unsustainable bubble.

He followed up with:

U.S. household wealth is in a bubble thanks to Fed-inflated asset prices. This is creating a “wealth effect” that is helping to drive our spurious economic recovery. This economy is nothing but a sham. It’s smoke and mirrors. Wake the F up, everyone!!!

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

Nomi Prins: Central Bank-Inspired “Major Credit Squeeze” Will Trigger Next Crisis

For all the talk about tapering (in both the US and Europe), the Federal Reserve has actually done remarkably little to reduce its balance sheet. And in an interview with Macrovoices Erik Townsend, former Wall Street executive Nomi Prins expands upon some of the same themes she covered in her latest book, “Collu$ion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World”.

Nomi

As Prins reminds us early on, the Fed and other central banks have expanded their balance sheets by more than $20 trillion, and despite all the chatter about withdrawing stimulus and letting its balance sheet roll off, the Fed’s balance sheet has only shrunk from $4.5 trillion to $4.3 trillion.

Central bankers, Prins argues, like to pat themselves on the back for avoiding what many feared would be runaway inflation resulting from low interest rates and quantitative easing. But of course, they did create inflation, just not the kind that could be reflected by CPI:

But the reason the markets went up and didn’t see through that is not because they believed this wasn’t an act of desperation (I think), but because there was just free money being handed out. It’s sort of like if you’re a drug addict, and you know at some point you’ll be clearheaded if you just get off the drugs and get your act together and move forwards, that’s one way to do it.

Or if someone is supplying you with lots of drugs then it just works and everything else, well then you’ll take them. And this is what happened. The Fed was that sort of supplier of last resort and a lender of last resort of capital for the market.

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

18 Times The Fed Has Gone Through A Rate Hiking Cycle, And 18 Times It Has Caused A Huge Stock Market Decline And/Or A Recession

18 Times The Fed Has Gone Through A Rate Hiking Cycle, And 18 Times It Has Caused A Huge Stock Market Decline And/Or A Recession

Since 1913, the Federal Reserve has engaged in 18 distinct interest rate hiking campaigns, and in every single one of those instances the end result was a large stock market decline, a recession, or both.  Now we are in the 19th rate tightening cycle since 1913, but many of the experts are insisting that things will somehow be different this time.  They assure us that the U.S. economy will continue to grow and that stock prices will continue to soar.  Of course the truth is that if something happens 18 times in a row, there is a really, really good chance that it will happen on the 19th time too.  For years I have been trying to get people to understand that our country has been on an endless roller coaster ride ever since the Fed was created back in 1913.  Things can seem quite pleasant when the economy is on one of the upswings, but the downswings can be extremely painful.

It was economist Lance Roberts that pointed out this correlation between rate hiking cycles and economic troubles.  When I came across his most recent article, it really got my attention

A sustained interest rate hiking campaign, as undertaken by the Fed, has always resulted in negative stock market returns.

Always. Not usually, not might-be-correlated-to. Always. As in, 18 out of 18 times. Until now. When we’ve had the single highest percentage increase in history (93.33% peak to trough, so far).

To support his claims, he posted this chart

So far, however, there hasn’t been a huge stock market drop or a recession during this rate hiking cycle.

Has something changed?

Is the 19th time going to be fundamentally different?

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

Higher Oil Prices Might Not Destroy Demand Growth

Higher Oil Prices Might Not Destroy Demand Growth

Gas station

The recent jump in oil prices to $80 per barrel raised a lot of questions about whether or not the heady demand growth projections for this year would hold up. In fact, signs of strain quickly popped up in disparate parts of the world. But as governments move to protect their citizens from high fuel prices (and to protect their political positions), demand might not be as price sensitive as analysts tend to think.

The history of oil price cycles show demand is highly sensitive to sharp increases in prices – demand took a hit in 1973, the early 1980s, the extraordinary 2005-2008 price increase, and the 2011-2014 period, when prices routinely topped $100 per barrel.

That record provides some guidance about what we should expect. Brent hit $80 per barrel for the first time in more than three years in May, a price level that would start to test the durability of demand growth. The run up in prices coincided with some early signs that consumers were losing their patience.

For example, U.S. President Donald Trump complained to OPEC in April about “artificially” high prices, and reportedly sent a request to the Saudis for higher output recently. Crippling protestsin Brazil brought the economy to a standstill and led to the ouster of the CEO of Petrobras. The International Energy Agency revised down its forecast for demand growth this year by 100,000 bpd, citing high prices.

Just as prices started to become painful, the OPEC+ coalition felt compelled to change course, and are on the verge of increasing output. Even with the recent price correction, demand threats still loom. The U.S. Federal Reserve continues to hike interest rates, which is strengthening the U.S. dollar and making dollar-denominated debt more painful to service. That is putting a strain on emerging market demand. The currencies of Argentina and Turkey have been slammed in the past few months.

…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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