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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…

China Accounts For Half Of All Global Debt Created Since 2005: Here Are The Implications

China Accounts For Half Of All Global Debt Created Since 2005: Here Are The Implications

Over three years ago, in November 2013, when the world’s attention was still largely focused on what the “Big 4” central banks would do with QE and/or interest rates, we wrote an article showing in one simple chart  “How In Five Short Years, China Humiliated The World’s Central Banks“, and noted that in just the brief period since the financial crisis “Chinese bank assets (and by implication liabilities) have grown by an astounding $15 trillion, bringing the total to over $24 trillion. In other words, China has expanded its financial balance sheet by 50% more than the assets of all global central banks combined.”

Fast forward to today, when not only is China’s debt the biggest wildcard for the stability of the global financial system (recall last week UBS observated that for the first time in years, the global credit impulse had tumbled to negative largely as a result of a slowdown in Chinese credit creation), but even central banks openly admit that China’s relentless debt-issuance spree is a major risk factor for global financial stability. One such bank is the NY Fed, which earlier today issued a report titled “China’s Continuing Credit Boom“, which while containing nothing that regular readers don’t already know, provides a handy snapshot of the full extent of China’s debt problems.

Here are some of the higlights:

  • Debt in China has increased dramatically in recent years, accounting for roughly one-half of all new credit created globally since 2005.
  • The country’s share of total global credit is nearly 25 percent, up from 5 percent ten years ago. By some measures (as documented below), China’s credit boom has reached the point where countries typically encounter financial stress, which could spill over to international markets given the size of the Chinese economy.

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

Is an Inflation Comeback in the Works?

LOVINGSTON, VIRGINIA – Amid all the sound and fury of the Trump news cycle, hardly anyone noticed. There is a specter haunting this economy. It is the specter of inflation…

See, if you want to whip inflation now, you don’t need to do any of the really difficult things, such as printing less money… or God forbid, return to honest, market-chosen money (shudder!). All you need is intelligent nutrition!     Image credit: Marshall Astor

Bloomberg has the report:

The U.S. cost of living increased in January by the most since February 2013, led by higher costs for gasoline and other goods and services that indicate inflation is gathering momentum. The consumer-price index rose a larger-than-forecast 0.6% after a 0.3% gain in December, Labor Department figures showed Wednesday. Compared with the same month last year, costs paid by Americans for goods and services rose 2.5%, the most since March 2012.

French investment bank Natixis makes a related observation:

The return of inflation in the euro zone with the rise in the oil price will drive the European Central Bank to give up QE […] Our estimate is that an end to QE would raise interest rates by 110 basis points. 

Wait – inflation is what the Fed has been looking for. And the latest numbers reveal it may have already reached the Fed’s target of 2%. If you’ll recall, the Fed set itself two targets: Unemployment would have to fall below 5%. And inflation would have to rise above 2%. Reaching those two targets would prove that the economy was healthy enough to allow the Fed to raise rates.

Higher rates of inflation – higher prices – signal more consumer demand. And more labor demand, too. It suggests there are more people with more money ready to spend it. How could that ever be a bad thing?

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

A Murderous Complacency

Dark omens are circling everywhere in today’s markets

murder: a flock of crows

~ Miriam-Webster dictionary

Many view the appearance of crows as an omen of death because ravens and crows are scavengers and are generally associated with dead bodies, battlefields, and cemeteries, and they’re thought to circle in large numbers above sites where animals or people are expected to soon die.

~ “Nature”, PBS.org

Running PeakProsperity.com requires me to read and process a lot of data on a daily basis. As it’s hard to digest it all in real-time, I keep a running list of charts, tables and articles that catch my attention, to return to when I have the time to give them my full focus.

Lately, that list has been getting quite long. And it’s largely full of indicators that concern me; signals that the long era of “extend and pretend” in today’s markets may finally be at its terminus.

Like crows circling overhead, every day brings with it new worrisome statistics that portend an ill change ahead. Indeed, these omens are increasing so quickly now that it’s hard not to feel like Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s suspense classic The Birds:

So what are the data that make me think these crows will soon be feasting on the carcass of the great bull market that has powered stock, bonds, real estate and most other asset classes to record highs since 2009?

Rogue’s Gallery

Complacent Investors

Investors have enjoyed remarkably gentle treatment by the stock markets over the past half-decade. Retracements have occurred much less frequently than historical norms, and have been shallow and short-lived when they happened.

Tom Lee, head of research at Fundstrat and often referred to as “Wall Street’s biggest bull” notes that 2016 was the mildest year on record for the S&P 500, with only 7 days in which the index traded at less than 3% of its 52-week high.

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

 

Harry Dent: Stocks Will Fall 70-90% Within 3 Years

Harry Dent: Stocks Will Fall 70-90% Within 3 Years

Creating the buying opportunity of a lifetime 

Economist and cycle trend forecaster Harry Dent sees crushing deflation ahead for nearly every financial asset class. We are at the nexus of a concurrent series of downtrends in the four most important predictive trends he tracks.

Laying out the thesis of his new book The Sale Of A Lifetime, Dent sees punishing losses ahead for investors who do not position themselves for safety beforehand. On the positive side, he predicts those that do will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to buy assets at incredible bargain prices once the carnage ends (and yes, for those of you wondering, he also addresses his outlook for gold):

All four of the cycles I track point down now. One after the next has peaked in the last several years. All four point down into early 2020 or so. That’s only happened in the early to mid-’70s when we had the worst stock crashes back then, the OPEC embargo, etc — the worst set of crises since the 1930s.

Of course, in the early ’30s we had this same configuration of all four of these fundamental cycles, cycles that have taken me 30 years to hone and say “these are the four that matter”.

The next three years are likely to be the worst we see in our lifetimes. It will be more like the early 1930s when stocks hit a debt bubble and financial asset bubbles crashed, which they only do once in a lifetime such as the early 1930s. Stocks will be down 70, 80, 90% — that’s to be as expected in this stage of the cycle after such a bubble.

I went from being the most bullish economist in the ’80s and ’90s to now being of the most bearish because what goes up goes down. That’s what cycles do. At heart, I’m a cycle guy.

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

2017’s Real Milestone (Or Why Interest Rates Can Never Go Back To Normal)

2017’s Real Milestone (Or Why Interest Rates Can Never Go Back To Normal)

The first is $20 trillion, which is the level the US federal debt will exceed sometime around June of this year. Here’s the current total as measured by the US Debt Clock:

To put $20 trillion into perspective, it’s about $160,000 per US taxpayer, and exists in addition to the mortgage, credit card, auto, and student debt that our hypothetical taxpayer probably carries. It is in short, way too much for the average wage slave to manage without some kind of existential crisis.

It’s also way more than it used to be. During his tenure, president George W. Bush (2000 – 2008) nearly doubled the government’s debt, which is to say his administration borrowed as much as all its predecessors from Washington through Clinton combined. At the time this seemed like a never-to-be-duplicated feat of governmental profligacy. But the very next administration topped it, taking the federal debt from $10 trillion to the soon-to-be-achieved $20 trillion. And the incoming administration apparently sees no problem with continuing the pattern.

The other meaningful number is 6.620. That’s the average interest rate the US government paid on its various debts in 2000, the year before the great monetary experiment of QE, ZIRP and all the rest began. When talking heads at the Fed and elsewhere refer to “normalizing” interest rates they’re proposing a return to this 6% average rate.

But of course the last time that rate prevailed our debts were just a little lower. Run the numbers on today’s obligations and you get, well, let’s see:

$20 trillion x 6% = $1.2 trillion a year in interest expense. To put that in perspective…

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

QE/ZIRP Is Crushing the Global Supply Chain, Product Quality and Profits

QE/ZIRP Is Crushing the Global Supply Chain, Product Quality and Profits

We will soon wish we were allowed an honest business cycle recession once the current overcapacity implodes the global economy.

We all know the quality of many globally sourced products has nosedived in the past few years. I addressed this in Inflation Hidden in Plain Sight (August 2, 2016): not only is inflation (i.e. getting less quantity for your money compared to a few years ago) visible in shrinking packages, it’s present but largely invisible in declining quality.

When products fail in a matter of months, we’re definitely getting less for our money, as what we’re buying is a product cycle, not just the product itself. We buy a product expecting it to last a certain number of years, and when it fails in a matter of weeks or months, this failure amounts to theft and/or fraud.

When a costly repair is required in a relatively new product, we’re getting less for our money, and when the repair itself fails (often as a result of a sub-$10 or even sub-$1 part), we end up paying twice for the inferior product.

Why has the quality globally sourced products nosedived? The obvious response is corner-cutting to lower costs to maintain profit margins, but this simply poses the next question: what’s changed in the past eight years that’s made corner-cutting essential to maintaining profit margins?

The answer may surprise you: central bank stimulus: QE (quantitative easing) and ZIRP (zero interest rate policy. Gordon Long and I discuss this dynamic inBankers Crippling the Global Supply Chain (34:50).

Nearly free money was intended to bring demand forward as a means of boosting a stagnant global economy. But there are unintended consequences of this policy: nearly free money doesn’t just distort demand–it also distorts supply.

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

Chart Of The Day: This Is What Happens When There Is Even A Hint That The ECB Will Stop Buying Bonds

Chart Of The Day: This Is What Happens When There Is Even A Hint That The ECB Will Stop Buying Bonds

Should the Fed Raise Interest Rates?

Should the Fed Raise Interest Rates?

For some time now the Fed has been hinting that it will moderate its interventions–monetizing government debt by printing money to buy government bonds and now quantitative easing by printing money to buy corporate bonds–in order to drive down the interest rate to unprecedented low levels. The Keynesian theory behind these interventions is that lower interest rates will spur lending, which in turn will spur spending. In the Keynesian mindset spending is all important–not saving, not being frugal, not living within one’s own means–no, spend, spend, spend. The Keynesians running all the world’s banks firmly believe that it is their duty that spending not diminish one cent, even if this means going massively into debt. Keynes himself famously said that government should borrow money to pay people to dig holes in the ground and then pay them again to fill them back up.

To Austrian school economist like myself, this is childish, shallow, and ultimately dangerous thinking. Austrians understand that economic prosperity depends first of all upon savings, not spending. Savings is funneled by the capital markets into productive, wealth generating enterprises. Gratuitous spending is simply consumption. Now, there is nothing wrong with consumption…as long as one has actually produced something to be consumed. Printed money is not the same as capital accumulation. Or, as Austrian school economist Frank Shostak explains, goods and services are the “means” of exchange and money is merely the “medium” of exchange. Expanding the means of exchange through increased production–which requires increased capital, which itself requires increased savings–is a hallmark of a prosperous society. Increasing the medium of exchange out of thin air, as is current central bank policy, is the hallmark of a declining society that has decided to eat its seed corn.

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

Our uncomfortable ride with central bankers who can’t take us home again: Neil Macdonald

Our uncomfortable ride with central bankers who can’t take us home again: Neil Macdonald

The great post-Great Recession money-printing bonanza was supposed to be temporary

Chair Janet Yellen decided this week to keep the U.S. Federal Reserve's interest rate where it is, saying the U.S. economy isn't yet ready to withstand a modest increase.

Chair Janet Yellen decided this week to keep the U.S. Federal Reserve’s interest rate where it is, saying the U.S. economy isn’t yet ready to withstand a modest increase. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

The value of that money is another question.

Money is the ultimate confidence game; $10 is worth $10 because we all agree it is worth $10, and for no other reason.

Common sense would seem to dictate that creating unimaginable amounts of new money, the way central banks have been doing since the Great Recession, would erode the value of a dollar, or a euro, or a yen.

The U.S. Federal Reserve alone has printed about $3.8 trillion since 2009. That’s enough to buy 38 million million-dollar homes.

DOLLAR/

The U.S. Federal Reserve has printed about $3.8 trillion since 2009. (Reuters)

Put another way, the American central bank has printed more money than the entire Canadian economy generates in two years. Most of it was spent buying U.S. government treasury bonds — basically creating money with one hand of government and handing it to the other to spend.

Of course, the money printing distorted everything. As intended, it drove down interest rates to nearly zero, punishing old-fashioned, “virtuous” behaviour, robbing savers of return on their investments, while rewarding those who live beyond their means and bailing out scoundrels.

Risky behaviour

As intended, the creation of that money encouraged even more risky behaviour. Stock markets set new records, floating on all that cash. People bought homes they probably couldn’t afford (to a point that has scared the government of Canada; our central bank has pursued low interest rates, too).

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

Like Everything Else, History Repeats (Almost Exactly) Because Power Truly Corrupts

Like Everything Else, History Repeats (Almost Exactly) Because Power Truly Corrupts

With both the Bank of Japan and Federal Reserve today undertaking policy considerations at the same time, it is useful to highlight the similarities of conditions if not exactly in time. As I wrote this morning, what the Fed is attempting now is very nearly the same as what the Bank of Japan did ten years ago. In the middle of 2006, after more than six years of ZIRP and five years of several QE’s, the Bank of Japan judged economic conditions sufficiently positive to begin the process of policy “exit” by first undertaking the rate “liftoff.”

If you read through the policy statement from July 2006 it sounds as if it were written by American central bank officials in July 2016. Swap out the year and the country and you really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Japan’s economy continues to expand moderately, with domestic and external demand and also the corporate and household sectors well in balance. The economy is likely to expand for a sustained period…The year-on-year rate of change in consumer prices is projected to continue to follow a positive trend.

With incoming data judged as meeting predetermined criteria (they were somewhat “data dependent”, too), the Bank of Japan voted to raise their benchmark short-term rate but were careful, just like the Fed since December, to assure “markets” that it would be a gradual change only in the level of further “accommodation.”

The Bank has maintained zero interest rates for an extended period, and the stimulus from monetary policy has been gradually amplified against the backdrop of steady improvements in economic activity and prices…

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

Time to Get Real: Part I

Time to Get Real: Part I

its-time-to-get-real1In a world where fair value is a central bank veiled enigma it’s frankly a challenge to keep things real, but I’ll have a go at it in what will be a 3 part series covering central banks, the underlying fundamental picture, and a technical assessment of charts. In this part I’ll be covering central banks and putting their actions into context of the realities of a changing world and will aim to address some of the implications.

Part I: Central banks

After years of watching central bankers do their bidding I’ve come to the conclusion that they are the designers of the ultimate Pokemon Go game by leading investors to ever more extreme locations to find little yield nuggets on their screens.

My largest criticism of this game has been that free market price discovery is largely dead and nobody knows what is real any longer, producing a false sense of security as, at any signs of trouble, central banks feel compelled to intervene ever further removing markets from their natural balance. In short: Creating a bubble with devastating consequences we will all end up paying for in one form or another.

For now one may call it a market of pure multiple expansion as GAAP earnings and price have completely diverged in 2016:

gaap

Indeed, as earnings have declined since their peak in 2015 we have seen one central bank intervention after another. Just in 2016 alone we have witnessed dozens of new rate cuts, the ECB modified and added to its QE program with QE3 an almost forgone conclusion, Japan added stimulus with the BOJ on track to own 60% of all ETFs in Japan with more to come. China intervened repeatedly, the UK cut rates and re-launched QE as well, and central banks such as the SNB have been busy expanding their share purchases of US stocks.

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

We’ve Reached the “Zero Point” of Debt Creation

We’ve Reached the “Zero Point” of Debt Creation

Hurtling toward a massive financial crisis.

Forty-five years and counting: We’ve been on a debt spree since the early 1970s when we went off the gold standard, covering every possible angle. Trade deficits, government deficits, unfunded entitlements, private debt – you name it! Our total debt has grown 2.5-times GDP since 1971.

How could economists not see this as a problem? How is this the least bit sustainable?

It isn’t. We’re hurtling toward a massive financial crisis, and all we have to show for it are financial asset bubbles destined to burst. And when they do, they’ll wipe out the artificial wealth they’ve created for many decades… in just a few years, as they did from late 1929 into late 1932!

The chart below shows the common-sense truth.

As with any drug – and debt is a financially enhancing drug – it takes more and more to create less and less of an effect. Eventually, you reach the “zero point” where there is no effect and the drug kills you from its very strain and toxicity.

We’re rapidly approaching that zero point, after every dollar of debt has produced less and less GDP steadily since 1966:

2016-08-31-return-on-debt

Note that the anomaly in the chart after 2008 was due to the impact of unprecedented QE. Ever since that disruption, the trends have pointed back down – making a beeline toward that zero point again.

Back in 2002, Swiss investor and market prognosticator Marc Faber published a similar chart. His findings showed the zero point for debt creation would occur around 2015. With updated data, we now see that the zero point will hit around the beginning of 2017.

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

When Government Controls All Wealth

BALTIMORE – Stock markets continued their rebound on Wednesday. The Dow rose 284 points… or just over 1.5%. London’s FTSE 100 Index was up 3.6%. And Europe’s equivalent of the Dow, the Euro Stoxx 50, was up 2.7%.

brexit-2No wonder the Dragon and his partners in crime flooded the EU banking system with “money” this past week…

Investors have realized Brexit isn’t the end of the world. First, because they think it won’t really happen. After all, elites can fix elections, buy politicians, and control public policy… surely, they can fix this!

A letter in the Financial Times reminds us that Swedish voters cast their ballots against nuclear power in 1980. The government just ignored them, doubling nuclear power generation over the next 36 years.

Second, because investors see the panic over Brexit leading to more spirited intervention by central banks! The EZ money floodgates – already wide open – are to be opened wider.

The U.S. has its QE program on hold, but Europe’s scheme is gushing like Niagara. Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank buys $90 billion a month in bonds. And he’s not only buying government bonds; he’s buying corporates, too.

Less Than Zero

In Japan, always a trendsetter, the Bank of Japan has bought so many bonds it has pushed Japanese government bond yields below zero – out to more than 45 years on the yield curve!

In other words, you can now lend to the bankrupt Japanese government until 2051 with no hope of making a single yen, nominally, on your investment. Now, with bonds stacking up in their vaults, the Japanese feds are diversifying. They’re buying exchange-traded funds (ETFs), too.

JGBJGB weekly over the past 5 years….still a widow-maker! – click to enlarge.

Via its ETF purchases, the BoJ buys about $30 billion of Japanese stocks a year. This has made it a top 10 shareholder in about 90% of the companies listed on the country’s Nikkei 225 Index.

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

Will Japan Be the First to Test the Limits of Quantitative Easing?

The Japanese stock market peaked in December 1989, marking the end of a period of economic expansion which briefly saw Japan eclipse the USA to become the world’s largest economy. Since its zenith, Japan has struggled. I wrote about this topic, in relation to the economic reform package dubbed Abenomics, in my first Macro Letter – Japan: the coming rise back in December 2013:-

As the US withdrew from Japan the political landscape became dominated by the LDP who were elected in 1955 and remained in power until 1993; they remain the incumbent and most powerful party in the Diet to this day. Under the LDP a virtuous triangle emerged between the Kieretsu (big business) the bureaucracy and the LDP. Brian Reading (Lombard Street Research) wrote an excellent, and impeccably timed, book entitled Japan: The Coming Collapse in 1989. By this time the virtuous triangle had become, what he coined the “Iron Triangle”.

Nearly twenty five years after the publication of Brian’s book, the” Iron Triangle” is weaker but alas unbroken. However, the election of Shinzo Abe, with his plan for competitive devaluation, fiscal stimulus and structural reform has given the electorate hope. 

In the last two years Abenomics has delivered some transitory benefits but, as this Japan Forum on International Relations – No. 101: Has Abenomics Lost Its Initial Objective?describes, it may have lost its way:-

The key objective of Abenomics is a departure from 20 year deflation. For this purpose, the Bank of Japan supplied a huge amount of base money to cause inflation, and carried out quantitative and qualitative monetary easing so that consumers and businesses have inflationary mindsets. 

…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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